Many healthcare professionals have the nagging feeling that something isn’t right in their world. For as hard as they work, forces beyond their control such as cultural trends and socioeconomic factors often stymie their ultimate impact.
More than the latest healthcare buzzword, population health acknowledges that over 80% of what leads to a long and healthy life comes not from the medical care we receive but rather where we’re born, where we live, our lifestyle, and our genetic endowment. In a world where doctors are paid to keep people healthy rather than simply provide treatment, it pays to fix what’s making them sick and standing in the way of their recovery.
Healthcare providers want to learn how to influence these broader determinants to do better for the populations they serve. I hear this firsthand from my students at the Jefferson University College of Population Health, where we just launched the first Masters of Science in Population Health exclusively for experienced health practitioners.
While electronic health records, innovations in health data analysis, and better care coordination are important to a population health program, the real key is a change in culture. Rather than their traditional focus on treating the disease, clinicians are learning to appreciate the social, cultural, and economic factors that largely determine their patients’ health. Doctors must understand that their advice is ignored not because patients don’t care, but because many lack the resources and knowledge to follow through and make it work.
Years ago, my patients taught me that I was writing prescriptions they couldn’t fill—both figuratively and literally. The undertow of economic and social challenges pushed back hard on my medically appropriate advice. A health system designed around effective population-based strategies that rewards providers for doing the right thing can address the challenges that make achieving good health so hard for so many.