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December 11, 2015

Uniting individual and community health as a single concept

Measurements of health tell us a great deal about our health status and help signal the performance measurement standards needed in the U.S. health care system to improve quality of care. With numerous measurements used today, it’s important for us to think about what constitutes a measure and which ones are most telling of our health care progress. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently released a report addressing present opportunities and obstacles in health care measurement and identified a set of uniform measures that can be used to determine targets for improving individual health and the health care system. 

I’m pleased to see progression towards defining individual health standards, but we have yet to reach a nationally agreed upon set of measures to assess the health of communities. The National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics (NCVHS), a group I belong to, is holding a hearing this month about evaluating health care from a community perspective based on facts that are given very little visibility. We’re working to decide on a set of domains for describing and assessing what makes a community healthy. Our focus is to use data in a more granular way to understand health dynamics—what creates health and what doesn’t.

“To begin analyzing health as a whole, we first need to understand that individual health and community health cannot be seen as separate concepts.”

 

While the IOM report and the NCVHS study each focus on different parts of the problem, it’s useful to view individual health status and community health status as complementary components. The set of criteria outlined by the IOM committee measures the value of health care services in improving population health by doing things that are focused on the level of individuals.

There are many health determinants that can influence a person’s well-being: socioeconomic status, access to care, air quality, education, safety and how his or her community has shaped them over time. These determinants must be included in the equation when we’re measuring health at any level. Individual and community health together form a causal relationship that provides insight of our overall health status.

So when we think about measurements of health, we have to consider the ways individual health and community health impact one another. Weaving data into that solution connects the dots to tell us that story and mobilizes us to take action leading to the transformation of healthier people and healthier communities.

David A. Ross, ScD

President/CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, former director of PHII