In the United States, most individuals seek health care through their primary care doctor or via a specialist. However, this may not be the case in the future. Though preventing and treating health care issues on an individual level has been the norm, some health care institutions are beginning to adopt the concept of population-focused health care.
Population-focused health care can be defined in a number of ways, though overall, it refers to assessing the health care needs of a specific population and making health care decisions for the population as a whole rather than for individuals. Populations being treated are made up of individuals who have one or more personal or environmental trait in common. Population-focused health care is a somewhat new concept in the United States, though other countries embraced this type of health care long ago as reported by Health Leaders Media. The concept of population-focused health care is now being taught in RN-MSN online programs such as those offered by Loyola University New Orleans Online and many expect to see population-based health care become more widely accepted.
Health care practitioners using similar treatment recommendations or guidelines for populations with a specific disease, injury or illness is one example of population-focused health care. Since guidelines are determined and observed by evaluating the effectiveness on a population of comparable patients, health care professionals can be assured they are advising what truly is best. On the other hand, if health care employees achieve a positive outcome with one patient, they can standardize the steps for treatment across all similar patients. In both cases, health care professionals must contemplate the balance between what works collectively for a population, and if any individuals require specialized attention due to unique circumstances.
Some may wonder why the United States would adopt population-focused health care when practitioners have implemented individual health care for so long. There are many reasons for this including eliminating inequalities within subgroups of the population and empowering the masses. Additionally, health care professionals can focus on the health of populations, invest upstream, base decisions on evidence, apply multiple strategies to act on the determinants of health, collaborate across levels and sectors, increase accountability for health outcomes, and employ mechanisms to engage citizens about taking a part in improving their health.
Within any population there are subgroups. These subgroups can be defined by race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or geography. In practicing population-focused health care, practitioners work to eliminate inequalities within these subgroups by proactively deciding on treatment based on the overall health of the community, regardless of any one person’s subgroup status. In doing so, they promote the elimination of disparities between subgroups and bring the population together.
Empowering the Masses
Through population-focused health care doctors, nurses and others are in the position to teach and empower entire populations. Through workshops, printed materials and more, health care professionals have the opportunity to provide health care information. This may include preventative measures to basic overall health, specific to that population. This can be very empowering as communities have the opportunity to come together and learn about health care that affects them each individually and as a whole population. The community is then able to see that they are part of the bigger picture: their collective health is of concern and measures are being taken to address their needs.
Preventative Measures for Populations
There are three levels of prevention population-focused health care professionals work within and these concepts are studied in curriculum for nursing students as well: primary, secondary and tertiary.
Primary prevention promotes overall good health while protecting against threats to health. This type of prevention keeps problems, like disease and injury, from happening all together. An example of primary prevention is education about substance abuse, more specifically drug and alcohol use. Health care professionals provide this information in hopes of preventing any drug-related conditions or associated diseases to misuse.
Secondary prevention addresses when an event has already occurred and is in its early stages. Primary prevention aims to keep problems from causing more serious or long-term effects. For example, in population-focused health care, health care professionals may recommend regular mammograms for those with known or increased risk of breast cancer. Another example can be seen with outbreaks of influenza that have already occurred in 2013. Health care professionals work together to create flu triage centers outside of the hospital setting and triage protocols to avoid infections from spreading to patients in the hospital, and isolating the rate of occurrence. Additionally, ensuring that the vaccine is more readily available, and utilization of the media may take place to spread the message about who should get the flu shot.
Tertiary prevention aids those with long-term or complicated health issues. This type of prevention works to manage quality of life and limit additional negative effects of an illness or health problem. Population-focused health care professionals may practice tertiary prevention by offering pain management to those with chronic pain.
Population-focused health care professionals use all three types of prevention when aiding a population. They must consider preventative measures that will benefit the overall health of the community, while taking into account both healthy members and others with specific diseases or health issues.
It Takes a Team
The shift to population-focused health care won’t happen overnight. This type of practice is beyond what any one doctor or nurse can do. It must be a well-executed and monitored team effort in order to achieve success. Preparing and applying health care for large groups, working with patients independent of office visits and continually examining results requires a number of health care practitioners working together. Depending on a health care facility’s capabilities, population-focused health care can be applied to one population at a time. Though it takes a great deal of participation from a number of parties, it can help health care practitioners provide patients quality care more efficiently.
As you can see, there are many advantages to population-based health care systems. It can improve health populations, eliminate inequalities, empower the masses and develop succinct population-based preventative plans. Additionally, it can assist health care professionals in providing the best care possible to all patients. With a range of benefits, it is clear why so many countries have adopted this method of health care completely, and the United States is not far behind.
The concept of population-focused health care is one in which students enrolled in Loyola University New Orleans online nursing programs understand very well. Integrated into the curriculum, Loyola’s nursing students understand the importance of attending to the health care needs of the population as a whole. Visit our course description page to learn more about the core curriculum.