With the healthcare landscape changing quite rapidly, there is a need for change in the functioning of various healthcare systems. People live longer, with most elderly presenting at least two chronic illnesses, often more. This fact, combined with the decreasing number of medical school graduates, means that there is a shortage of healthcare practitioners, and this gap can widen considerably in the next 10 years.
In the past, healthcare focused on the treatment of an individual, with less emphasis on group health. Through necessity, however, the focus is changing. By managing group healthcare and promoting preventative measures in larger communities, we are starting to see improvements in the general health of communities, thus relieving some of the workloads on doctors and nurses.
What is healthcare population?
A healthcare population refers to a specific group of people with one or more personal or environmental characteristics in common. The term “population” is used widely and can encompass a small community or the entire country. For example, it can refer to a community of people who live in an underserved area, people in a particular age group, or an ethnic population within a state.
Difference between public health and population health
Public health refers to a narrow but vital set of activities carried out by an agency with specific functions and a focus on health improvement in communities.
Population health refers to a broad section of health outcomes in specific populations. Population care concentrates on caring for a group of people and the factors affecting their health, as opposed to interventions that focus on individual care.
Factors affecting population health
Social determinants of health (SDOH) are non-medical factors that affect health in individuals and groups. Practicing population-based healthcare has become necessary in many areas, as the many factors affecting health conditions in entire groups of people require specific attention. Examples of SDOH are air and water pollution, lack of access to healthcare and immunization, poor economic conditions, and occupational illness in industrial areas. Populations in confined spaces such as prisons and schools can be breeding grounds for disease if not managed properly.
Medical populations can be divided into two sub-groups: population-of-interest and population-at-risk. When working with a population-of-interest, their health is generally good, but there is usually room for improvement in lifestyle and health. A population-at-risk has a common risk factor or exposure to risk, with increased threats to their health.
Population-based healthcare is not limited to at-risk populations. The focus is on the whole spectrum of factors that affect health rather than specific diseases or health risks. Healthcare professionals’ key focus is on promoting health and preventing problems from occurring.
Primary measures focus on preventing disease; secondary measures detect and treat problems effectively; and tertiary measures prevent illnesses from worsening. Primary prevention is the ultimate goal of the population health practitioner.
Nursing and population care
Nurses are trained to take a holistic view of their patients, and it includes an assessment of the patient’s environment. Because they work directly with patients, nurses are well-placed to assess the social factors surrounding health issues. They can make informed decisions about the determinants of disease and what kind of action is needed to be taken in communities where problems present themselves.
Training in this area is critical if the healthcare system has to manage or treat these social determinants successfully. Nurses working with specific populations need critical thinking and analysis skills, as well as the relevant training, in order to identify particular community-related problems.
In addition, the master of science nurse (MSN) specializing in population healthcare needs good communication skills to facilitate interaction with patients and families, educate them on health, diet, and lifestyle, and act as an intermediary with medical practitioners and specialists.
If you can identify with these skills and would like to integrate population-based care into your set of professional skills, get involved in this specialized area of healthcare with an MSN population health qualification from Cleveland State University, utilizing your skills and passion for knowledge to improve population health well into the future.
Nurses who are working in a population environment can:
- Assess and identify vulnerabilities that negatively affect the health and well-being of a community.
- Prioritize health inequalities for intervention by the relevant organizations.
- Discern patterns in health outcomes.
- Create links between communities and resources or services.
- Develop population-focused interventions.
- Evaluate the efficiency of their interventions.
- Understand how their choice of interventions affects their patients and the community as a whole.
Data management and analysis play a crucial role in these activities, informing the nurse of patterns of illness or injury in communities and, in some cases, predicting potential disease outbreaks or identifying abusive tendencies. Nurses do not need to become informatics specialists; however, training in data analytics or access to statistical information yielded by analytics would be helpful for the nurse practitioner when identifying social determinants of population health.
Basic capabilities in capturing patient data and care management details are something that every nurse is capable of and needs to maintain concerning specific population groups.
Once a population-at-risk area has been identified, systems should be in place to encourage continuity:
- Develop a process to follow up on high- and medium-risk patients.
- Educate the patients using brochures and other materials.
- Support patients with changing their lifestyles, giving advice on healthy eating habits and exercise, how to grow their own vegetables, water purification, and more.
- Provide the services of a community nurse to maintain good healthcare standards.
Reap the rewards
It’s not always easy when dealing with groups of people with different ideas and customs. Still, if you take a step back at the end of the day and consider what you have achieved in such an insignificant amount of time, there will be evident results. As a qualified nurse practitioner with training in population healthcare, you have what it takes to seize control of a situation and turn it around to benefit all concerned.