To help them in their new population health mission, health IT companies like Cerner are designing services to focus on analyzing patient population health needs—but does their “population health” match public health’s definition?
To Cerner—and, by extension, the medical provider organizations it services—populations comprise, for the most part, the patients for which the insurance company is responsible. If Joe Schmo isn’t covered by Acme Insurance Company, then to Acme, he simply doesn’t exist. Our country’s private insurance model necessarily limits a company’s view of the lives for which they are responsible. Public health understands “population” as being all of the people living within a defined geography or particular risk group. We must ask how the more limited definition of population will impact the insurance companies’ transition into the role of population health insurer and the health care organization’s transition into role of population health manager. When a “population” is not an all-encompassing term, then whole population segments are excluded, which can only fuel existing health coverage disparities and deepen the health rift between the haves and the have-nots.
Public health seems to have a unique responsibility – we speak on behalf of the entire population. If we wish to forge into an equitable future, public health practitioners must learn to work side-by-side with these new stakeholders to identify health care gaps and alleviate disparity. While building new partnerships isn’t easy, the need has never been greater.