Hospitals and health systems everywhere are working hard to prevent the forward march of noncommunicable disease and ultimately bring down the cost of health care. Most are embracing population health initiatives with renewed vigor as a result. These programs leverage specialized clinical workflows and educational resources to reduce the prevalence of noncommunicable disease. These efforts often center on specific groups that are at risk for developing such illnesses, including the elderly and the impoverished.
The history of population health
The rise of population health is inextricably linked to the ascendance of epidemiology, or the study of disease and other factors related to health, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health. Around the time of the Industrial Revolution, physicians in Great Britain and France began observing declines in overall public health, which they associated with adverse effects of rapid industrialization. This led to a number of pioneering epidemiological studies and the development of wide-reaching education and treatment initiatives designed to reduce the occurrence of disease. This work continued and accelerated during the period after the Second World War, when changing social conditions facilitated an increase in noncommunicable illnesses. However, early population health programs largely failed due to a lack of operational practicality.
In recent years, however, health care organizations and government agencies have re-engaged with public health methodologies. For example, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in December 2010 launched the Healthy People campaign, which aims to improve the health of all U.S. residents via collaborations with care providers and educational programs. Major nonprofit organizations such as the WHO are also involved in these efforts, leveraging global networks of physicians and medical educators to help various populations adopt preventive health care plans that reduce the likelihood of noncommunicable disease.
Understanding the public health profession
No matter the group leading population health efforts, most programs of this type feature five mission-critical characteristics, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. These include:
- Population-specific: All resources are customized to address various groups that are more likely to suffer from noncommunicable disease due to social or economic status, or other variables.
- Assessment-based: Population health programs often stem from large-scale data collection efforts, which allow medical professionals to tailor educational and medical workflows to meet the measurable needs of specific populations.
- Broad: Efforts of this kind must consider all of the overarching factors that might affect public health, including governmental and socioeconomic forces.
- Prevention-driven: It is critical that population health initiatives center on prevention in all forms. While every adverse health outcome cannot be prevented, there are steps individuals can take to reduce their likelihood.
- Intervention-centric: Population health solutions should be actionable at all levels and designed to work within communities, families and other contexts.
While these attributes appear in most population health programs, there are different types of such initiatives, Becker’s Hospital Review reported. For example, some organizations roll out external-facing efforts focused on disease and lifestyle management, while others develop internal programs to address demand and operational integration.
Identifying key public health professionals
Population health programs are only as effective as the health care professionals who lead and execute them. It all starts at the top with executives and initiative directors, who leverage operational know-how and managerial expertise to develop large-scale population health initiatives that work on the ground. Epidemiologists and other critical technical specialists are responsible for going into at-risk communities and executing. Health care professionals in both groups have the opportunity to make an immense impact via proven data-collection, education and treatment processes aimed at reducing the occurrence of noncommunicable health conditions and ultimately democratizing health care services.
How can health care professionals looking to contribute to or lead population health programs enter this type of role? Graduate school is often the first step as many of the most successful contributors and leaders in the profession hold Master of Public Health degrees. That said, going back to school full-time is not an option for everyone. Fortunately, Regis College has an alternative option for mid-career professionals who want to move in or enter the population health field without sacrificing their current roles: the online MPH program.
Here, students can develop the skills and experience they need to make an impact on a large scale. The online MPH program at Regis College centers on a generalist curriculum that touches on a wide variety of topics, including biostatistics, epidemiological methods, health ethics and behavioral science, to help aspiring leaders and innovators in the field to cultivate wide-ranging skill sets. The instructional track also includes two concentrations: an epidemiology track ideal for field-level researchers and a public health administration option perfect for rising public health executives.
Are you interested in carving out a new career in health care organizations focusing on population health efforts? Contact Regis College today to learn more about the online MPH degree program.