What Is Population Health and Why Does It Matter?

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A population health expert working with a doctor

As the population ages and chronic health problems and healthcare costs increase, healthcare systems have had to find new strategies to address these pressing issues. Population health is one approach that has proven effective and that large healthcare providers are adopting. Population health is one of the pillars of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Triple Aim for optimizing health system performance — the other two being the patient experience of care and per capita cost. Many healthcare organizations now devote significant resources to population health management, a strategy aimed at increasing healthcare delivery efficiency while reducing costs. As population health strategies become more prevalent, health administrators with specialized education and experience are in increasing demand.

Population Health Defined

Population health aims to improve the healthcare of specific groups and aims to reduce health disparities among populations. It looks at the social determinants of health — social and economic factors that affect population health. The population can be those who live in a geographic area or a group defined by specific attributes, such as age. In a healthcare setting such as a hospital, the population in question is likely to be the hospital’s patients and its various subpopulations.

Population health management is particularly useful in identifying and targeting populations with high needs, such as chronic health conditions like diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. These populations are identified through data collection and analysis, and their needs are anticipated. Hospitals can then plan accordingly, proactively deploy healthcare interventions, and cost-effectively deliver care that benefits their patients.

How Does Population Health Differ from Public Health and Community Health?

There are overlaps among population health, public health, and community health — the goals of all three are aligned — but there are no universally agreed-upon definitions for these terms. In general, public health focuses on policy recommendations, health education, and outreach to improve the health of communities, and is typically administered by public health agencies. Community health usually focuses on efforts to assess groups linked by locale. Population health management can be administered at the organizational and provider levels. Population health includes health outcomes, patterns of health determinants, and policies and interventions.

The Health Administrator and Population Health

Health administrators are key to the implementation of population health initiatives, especially in large organizations where it can be daunting. Current population health approaches are largely data-driven: technology and software are integral. Predictive analytics is a population health approach that uses statistical tools and analysis to identify at-risk members of the population. By targeting this subpopulation and providing coordinated services, patient health outcomes are improved and provider costs are reduced.

Consider the example of a population health initiative by a Camden, New Jersey, hospital that successfully cut emergency room visits by 40% and reduced costs by 50%. The hospital collected and analyzed data to identify a subpopulation that generated 90% of the hospital’s costs through high ER use and frequent hospitalization. The hospital then targeted this subpopulation with tailored health interventions.

Health administrators are instrumental in carrying out the healthcare provider’s strategy for population health. Change management may be an important part of a health administrator’s job as the organizations’ design and roll out population health programs. Health administrators may be in charge of identifying and purchasing the necessary technology and software. They can help smooth the way for adoption and encourage employee buy-in for new technology and methods. They may oversee training and implementation and ensure that best practices are consistently followed. The health administrator’s overarching goal is for the organization to deliver the highest-quality health care in the most cost-efficient manner.

The Necessary Skills for Health Administrators

Health administrators are leaders in their organizations. Their managerial and financial planning skills are instrumental to the smooth running of their organizations. To design, oversee, and manage a population health program, a health administrator must have advanced analytical and technical competencies and superior communication skills.

Duquesne University’s online Master of Health Administration program offers three concentrations: Population Health; Health Informatics and Data Analytics; and Healthcare Compliance and Risk Management, with curricula tailored to produce graduates who are specialists in their chosen area. Students who choose the Population Health concentration will graduate with a highly valued expertise in the field. This concentration includes courses in managerial epidemiology and health promotion, which will equip the health administrator to use data to identify gaps in care and develop and implement programs that enhance the health of populations.

Learn More About Duquesne University’s Online Master of Health Administration with a Concentration in Population Health

Large health providers are increasingly relying on population health approaches. Gain valuable expertise in technology and data analysis with Duquesne University’s online Master of Health Administration and its Population Health concentration. Stand out from the crowd with Duquesne’s advanced leadership training, and acquire the tools and knowledge to be a successful health administrator.

Recommended Readings

Population Health Management: Challenges and Benefits

What Does a Health Administrator Do in a Day?

MHA Degree: Salary and Benefits



ASTHO, Public Health and Population Health 101
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What Is Population Health?
Health Affairs, “What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Population Health?”
HealthITAnalytics.com, “Building the Team for Big Data Analytics, Population Health”
HealthITAnalytics.com, How Do Population Health, Public Health, Community Health Differ?
HealthITAnalytics.com, “Top 10 Challenges of Population Health Management”
Institute for Healthcare Improvement, “Populations, Population Health, and the Evolution of Population Management: Making Sense of the Terminology in US Health Care Today”
NCBI, “What Is ‘Community Health’? Examining the Meaning of an Evolving Field in Public Health”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers