Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Guest Commentary: The Many Meanings of Population Health

Tamar Klaiman, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Jefferson School of Population Health

Last month, I attended the 2012 Keeneland Conference for Public Health Systems and Services Research (PHSSR). This growing body of research examines the organization, financing and delivery of public health services within a community and determines the links between the quality and performance of the public health system and population health outcomes. The conference brought together researchers and practitioners with an eye toward translating research into practice and policy through information exchange, feedback, and collaboration.

Keynote presenters at this year’s Keeneland Conference focused much of their presentations and discussion on defining population health in the context of public health systems, primary care, and the Affordable Care Act. Presenters and attendees seemed to agree that the term “population health” means very different things to different stakeholders. Public health practitioners focus their efforts toward community health, and consider the public to be the population of interest. Health care providers tend to think of population health as the health of their patient population. Insurers and employers think of population health in terms of their enrollees or employees.

The PHSSR research agenda defines the public health workforce, public health systems structure and performance, public health financing and economics, and public health information technology as its top research priorities. These closely align with many of the priorities set forward in other areas of health-related research. Although there are disparate perspectives about the definition of population health, there is no question that a paradigm shift from treatment to prevention is occurring across the United States. As a PHSSR researcher, I look forward to seeing the impact of current research on future practice and policy and ultimately on people’s health.

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