Population Health versus Public Health

“Population Health” seems to be the trend these days, so much so that I had at least four separate discussion (with different people) on the topic just earlier this month.

While I am truly glad that people are now paying attention to Population Health, I am somewhat amuse when it is presented as a “new fantastic idea” – because it isn’t and we are going to examine it in this post.

  • Population Health is defined as “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group. It is an approach to health that aims to improve the health of an entire human population”
    (source: Wikipedia).
  • Public Health – “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.” It is concerned with threats to health based on population health analysis. The population in question can be as small as a handful of people, or as large as all the inhabitants of several continents”
    (source: Wikipedia).

From the definitions alone, we can see that there are a lot of similarities between Public Health and Population Health and I am going to reference the illustration (from Harvey Fineberg) used in a post back in April 2012 – So what exactly is Public Health?;

Public Health Medicine
Primary Focus Populations Individuals
Emphasis Prevention Diagnosis
Health Promotion Treatment
Whole Community Whole Patient
Paradigm Interventions aimed at Environment, Human Behavior and Lifestyle, and Medical Care Medical Care
Organizational Lines of Specialization Analytical (Epidemiology); Organ (Cardiology);
Setting and Population (Occupational Health); Patient Group (Pediatrics);
Substantive Health Problem (Nutrition); Etiology, Pathophysiology (Oncology, Infectious Disease)
Skills in Assessment, Policy Development, and Assurance Technical Skill (Radiology)

Notice that the primary focus for Public Health is Population. (Does that give you any hint?).

Interestingly, while I found numerous articles off the Internet sharing the same view (that Population Health falls under Public Health), I also came across differing opinions. Further reading led to some interesting views – “public health has been understood by many to be the critical functions of state and local public health departments such as preventing epidemics, containing environmental hazards, and encouraging healthy behaviours” while Population Health includes the “distribution of such outcomes within the group”.

The first thing that came to my mind was “are they not talking about Community Health, which is part of Public Health?” and this makes perfect sense because Community Health serves as a platform for Primary Care which includes “distribution of such outcomes within the group”.

In other words, Population Health really is a term to describe Community Care (which is part of Public Health) working in tandem with Primary Care and this is not a new concept, it has been around for ages.

So yes, there are little differences between public health and population health as both are concern with the “health of the public”. To further strengthen my argument, I am going to cite two examples;

I hope that clarifies what Population Health really is 🙂

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