Population Health vs Public Health: The Debate

When it comes to allocating government spending there is usually a debate between spending the most on Population Health vs Public Health. These two terms, in general, get used interchangeably and also mistaken for one another but they are quite different terms. In this article, we discuss both population health and public health and what each means and their various components

Public Health Defined

Public health can be defined as the process involved in preventing diseases, prolonging human life, and promoting human health through organized efforts and informed choices made by the society as a whole including both government and private organizations, communities, and individuals. The concept of public health is very road and so there are many definitions. Depending on your field if you are in the sciences or the arts, your definition of public health might reflect that more.

Public health professionals work all around the world and they are able to address health problems and influence policies that affect the general health of people in the society. A public health professional is more likely to work in organizations like The World Health Organization, UNICEF or even The World Bank. As already, mentioned, public health is a broad concept. It involves the application and merging of the following fields/disciplines listed below

  • Biology
  • Anthropology
  • Public policy
  • Mathematics
  • Engineering
  • Education
  • Psychology
  • Computer science
  • Sociology
  • Medicine
  • Business

Population Health Defined

Population health can be defined as the measure of the health outcomes of a group of individuals and the distribution of such outcomes within the group. Like public health, population health has several definitions. One widely accepted and all-encompassing definition is that made by the Central for Disease Control  (CDC)

“CDC views population health as an interdisciplinary, customizable approach that allows health departments to connect practice to policy for change to happen locally. This approach utilizes non-traditional partnerships among different sectors of the community – public health, industry, academia, health care, local government entities, etc. – to achieve positive health outcomes. Population health brings significant health concerns into focus and addresses ways that resources can be allocated to overcome the problems that drive poor health conditions in the population”

Population health, as a stand-alone concept, is quite new. It first came into public knowledge in 2003 after a definition by David Kindig and Greg Stoddart was published. They defined population health as:

“the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.”

Obstacles of Populations Health

While the above definition is accurate, some in the healthcare and public health industries complain that it focuses strictly on the measurement of health outcomes without explaining or acknowledging the role that health care providers must take to impact those outcomes. This leads to the next point which is the obstacles to population health. For something so broad, there will be, of course, challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of completing it. Let’s discuss these obstacles below

The Growth of Elderly Population

The number of senior citizens continues to rises rapidly and research has shown that by 2020, the elderly population in the world will be even more massive. This means that it will bring down the overall average percentage of healthy individuals. Old people always have one health problem or another and even multiple and so they are not a healthy demographic in general. When their overall number continues to rise, they take up a higher percentage of the population and as such, the overall population health will drop.

Unequal Access to Healthcare

Many states and cities still have a huge part of their population that have little to no access to healthcare. This lack of access, mostly present in inner cities, rural areas, and neglected neighborhood, means that more people are not getting the care they need. Unequal access, poor quality, and rising costs are three key challenges faced by the healthcare industry and that effect overall population health. For example, let’s look at what is going on in India –

“The healthcare structure of India is grossly inadequate, especially in the rural areas. While a majority of the population resides in rural India, it is the most neglected part of the country. Only 31.5 percent of hospitals and 16 percent of hospital beds constitute the rural healthcare setup, with over a whopping 81-percent shortage of medical specialists. Furthermore, nearly eight percent of the Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in backward areas lack trained physicians. As a result, a significant proportion of the rural population does not have access to primary healthcare facilities.” YourStory

Inadequate Government Spending

At the start of this article, we mention that allocating government funds is one of the main sources of the debate of Population Health vs Public Health. When the government does not allocate the necessary funds to help drive population health, it leads to a ripple effect of bad outcomes. For example, when the health insurance system is dysfunctional, it means healthcare is not as accessible as it should be and that people have to pay large premiums for care or even worse, pay out of pocket.

Expensive Healthcare Services

Speaking of pay for healthcare, it is quite expensive. In the ideal world, health care should be free for all but that is not the case in the United States. Healthcare is very expensive and for those that have insurance, the health insurance does not cover all that is needed and in most cases, it does not cover the most expensive things. Due to the inadequacies of government hospitals such as shortage of trained staff, beds, essential drugs etc., people are forced to rely on expensive healthcare services of private hospitals. This, of course, contributes to the degradation of the overall population health.