Health care professionals have to think about a lot when working with individual patients, including their health history, family history, lifestyle, and environment. But it’s important to remember that every patient is part of a larger community— a community with its own unique healthcare needs and challenges.
Population health management is all about improving the health of a specific population as a whole—not just individual patients. If you want to be an effective healthcare provider, it’s important to understand population health management and what you can do to contribute to these larger population health goals.
Understanding Population Health and Determinants That Apply
Each individual has their own individual risk factors for certain health problems based on their genes and a variety of other factors. Some of those factors have to do with the population they belong to, such as their age group, gender, ethnic or racial group, region, and socioeconomic status. People belong to multiple populations at once, and the factors affecting each population apply to them.
The number of factors that can influence an individual’s overall health and risk factors for medical conditions is extremely high. By working to understand factors affecting population health, health care professionals can help both individuals and communities to address negative influences and improve their health. Population health management involves using both proactive and reactive measures to help a specific population, usually one that is at risk or vulnerable.
Some factors (or determinants) that can influence population health include:
- Socioeconomic status
- Environmental hazards, such as pollution or violence
- Lack of access to healthy food
- Cultural influences affecting lifestyle
- Lack of physical activity
- Social support systems
These are just a few of the determinants that might make a population more or less at risk of certain health problems. Understanding them is essential so that potential solutions can be explored.
The Role of Health Care Professionals in Population Health Management
Population health management is a process that involves people from different fields, including researchers, social workers, and health care professionals, including health executives. Collaboration between professionals in different fields is critical for any meaningful progress. The role of health care professionals in population health management will depend on the types of issues a population might be facing.
The first important role of health care professionals, of course, is providing health advice, diagnosis, and treatment. For populations facing a collective health problem, health care professionals can help by providing direct medical care or by advising patients about preventative care that could help improve their health outcomes.
The second is more of an advocacy role. Health care professionals are busy, and it’s common for them to get caught up in the day-to-day work of patient care. However, it’s important for these professionals to help advocate for population health management as a way to reduce health disparities and lessen the impact of social determinants of health.
As these preventable issues have a huge impact on the health of certain populations, health care professionals need to help build awareness.
Understanding a Population’s Risk Factors and Needs
To help communities as a whole, the approach to population health management must be holistic. The first step is information gathering. What factors are influencing a population’s health?
If we look at the LGBTQ+ community, for instance, social factors are hugely important. Members of this community are often bullied, for instance, which can contribute to mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Many LGBTQ+ individuals have felt isolated at some point during their lives, which can heighten their more frequent mental health concerns.
Or, we could look at people living in poverty. They might live in unsafe housing containing mold or other environmental hazards. They are likely to live in areas that experience more violence. It’s difficult for them to afford and access healthy food, and they might not have time or equipment to prepare it.
When looking at why a group’s health outcomes are poor, it’s important to look at the issue from every angle. That will allow different professionals to effectively collaborate on possible ways to address these issues. Data analysis is an incredibly helpful tool that is making this process much easier for organizations that are spearheading these important health initiatives.
Initiatives for Health Care Professionals
Depending on the needs of the population in question, there’s a lot health care professionals can do to help in facilitating health initiatives.
For example, they could provide education and resources about healthy lifestyles and preventative care, tailoring their educational information to what is realistic for someone in that population. Preventative care can help keep people out of the doctor’s office, saving them money and time.
Another example would be providing immunizations and helping communities with disease outbreak preparedness. Doctors and nurses could also help mothers-to-be learn how to care for themselves during pregnancy and assist with common issues before and after birth, such as breastfeeding difficulties.
Health care professionals need to be ready to jump in when they’re needed. Adaptability helps to ensure that the needs of the community are the top priority.
Ways to Make Healthcare More Accessible to Vulnerable Populations
Vulnerable populations have more than their share of the burden of disease, and they need better access to healthcare. Providing options like telehealth can help improve health outcomes for people who lack reliable transportation, such as people in rural areas who live in poverty. Remote monitoring, increased preventative care, and collaboration with social services can also help to reduce health disparities affecting vulnerable populations.
Population Health Management is Complex…and Necessary
Population health management poses complex challenges that rarely have an easy fix. Now that we have access to so much data, it’s never been easier to see what is happening in different populations, but what to do with that information is much more difficult.
If professionals come together from healthcare, administration, social work, and other departments, it is possible to help improve the health of various populations. Health care professionals can do their part by being willing to help in any way they can, whether that’s providing care or simply spreading information.