You may have seen the phrase “population health” appear multiple times over the last decade, but a clear definition seems to be elusive. The facility where I work recently hired population health professionals – and my quest to find a simple definition explaining the approach and outcomes of the field sparked my interest. A recent Google search yielding about 814,000,000 hits only added to my confusion.
Most diabetes educators focus on an individual or a small group of people with diabetes, providing education and support throughout the lifespan. How are we involved in the concept of working with the health of populations and what does it mean to us?
By defining a population to evaluate and assess, professionals working in the space can develop interventions that touch on common themes and work to improve health outcomes
A focus of population health is the improvement of health outcomes for a group of individuals; a community, a group of insurance plan enrollees, patients admitted to a hospital, employees, etc. By defining a population to evaluate and assess, professionals working in the space can develop interventions that touch on common themes and work to improve health outcomes. Evaluations can consider factors such as a population’s access to health care, social determinants of health, application of knowledge and follow through.
Although it is important to view a population at a macro level and identify their specific needs so health policies can be developed and applied, individualization of diabetes education continues to be a critical factor in the impact to the person with diabetes. Even within defined populations, each individual has their own unique attributes and challenges which impact their overall health.
So how does population health allow those of us working with individuals to positively impact their health? By understanding larger issues a group may experience – for example lack of transportation to a healthcare facility or inadequate resources for medical supplies – we are alerted to the barriers that may be impacting individuals we work with by asking some of the assessment questions we may have been neglecting. By understanding the challenges of the “whole”, we can be better equipped to assess and problem solve with each of our patients, ultimately driving positive impacts on the health of the population.
Diabetes educators can be advocates in this growing field, even challenge the status quo and promote change. If you are an AADE member interested in population health, a new community of interest (COI) is now available to you. Another great resource for healthcare professionals to consider is the 2019 Standards of Care in Diabetes, which includes “Improving Care and Promoting Health in Populations” as the first listed guideline. Log in and check it out!
About the Author:
Cox is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She has been a certified diabetes educator for over 25 years and served as an assistant adjunct professor for 14 years, teaching in areas of sports nutrition and exercise physiology. Currently she works for providence medical group in Missoula, Montana and consults on diabetes technology nationally.
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