Support for population health is a major strategic goal in the EHR world but what exactly does the term mean? The topic commands considerable mindshare for Cerner which has created a special landing page for for it (see: Population Health). Below is a cut-and-paste of text about how population health is addressed by the company:
Population Health Management is more than an industry buzzword or the next big fad.
It is the shift from solely automating health systems to managing a person’s health. A healthier overall population will maximize patient satisfaction and minimize resource consumption. Getting there requires complete, accurate patient data and meaningfully using that data to engage individuals at all times, exchange information between providers and ultimately drive better outcomes. This shift in perspective will shape the future of health care – one driven by accountability, transparency and value.
I had the idea prior to writing this note that population health encompasses the health status of large patient populations. Note, however, how Cerner defines the term on its web site:...It is the shift from solely automating health systems to managing a person’s health. A healthier overall population will maximize patient satisfaction and minimize resource consumption. According to the company, then, population health addresses the management of individual patients' health. There's nothing wrong with this definition but it seem to me to be distant from the usual public health definition.
This shift from describing and managing the health of populations of patients to individual patients make sense from a business point of view. Hospitals are not reimbursed on the basis of making patient populations healthier. They will continue to be compensated on the basis of achieving favorable outcomes for individual patients as we move toward value-based care (see: Redefining Health Care: Creating Value-Based Competition on Results). EHR vendors like Cerner thus need to offer products that reflect the goals of their hospital customers.
It falls to the public health experts to determine to what extent healthcare systems deliver on their promise of improving the health of large populations (see: Heart disease death rate continues to drop). A purist might say that improving outcomes for individual patients improves public health statistics for the entire population in the long run. However, it seems to me that the term "population health management" in the EHR world has now drifted from what would expect in a historic sense.