Most encounters with healthcare occur at the individual level. A person schedules an appointment with their care provider, and together they work toward a solution for that person. Population Health, on the other hand, improves the quality of care and clinical outcomes for a population of people.
For example, if many people in a particular region are experiencing higher-than-normal rates of cancer, diabetes, or a host of other illnesses, population health experts are behind the scenes considering all of the factors that might be contributing to these trends. What’s more, they design interventions and education outreach at the community level, which includes promoting healthy lifestyle choices and disease prevention programs. An additional, and very important, goal of population health is to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, health inequity and disparities within and across populations.
At UVA, Dr. Stephen Rich is using population health interventions to tackle Type 1 diabetes. In order to treat the disease before symptoms occur, and to prevent Type 1 diabetes altogether, Rich has undertaken a massive screening of children in Virginia under the age of five. Meanwhile, oncologist Dr. Jamie Zolnar leads UVA’s cancer prevention efforts in Southwest Virginia. Zolnar works with middle schoolers to teach them the dangers of smoking and sugary drinks, which can lead to a cancer diagnosis.