Population Health & Preventing Problems Before They Begin
By Contributing Author, Ainsley Lawrence
Your health is perhaps the most important thing that you can have a direct effect on your life. Keeping yourself healthy ensures that you’ll live a long and happy life, not to mention the serious amount of money you’ll save by avoiding costly doctor’s visits.
This is why it is so important to understand what exactly population health is versus public health and how it affects you and your ability to maintain your own health on your own terms.
Why Population Health Matters
It seems like every year more and more new illnesses are plaguing the country requiring a greater amount of prescription drugs to treat these new illnesses. The bulk of the drugs being used to treat illnesses are not actually doing anything to combat the illness itself but instead simply putting a bandage over various symptoms.
Where you live plays a huge part in what services are available to you and the likelihood of what illnesses you might come down with, which is essentially what population health looks at.
While public health revolves around policies, education, and outreach involving the health of the general public, population health differs in that it focuses on the health patterns and outcomes of a specific group of people or region.
Population health is important because it gives both patients and healthcare providers insight into what programs will be the most necessary in any given area or with any certain group of people and can help to focus healthcare in a way that works to treat the specific and unique needs of a population.
Population health works to lift up the overall health of an area or group of people by addressing what they are in direct need of instead of simply trying to do the greatest amount of good for the largest number of people as public health seeks to do. For individuals looking to take steps to manage their own health, population health can show them what they might be at a higher risk of coming down with and can give them a general guideline of how they can take preventative action.
What You Can Do
One of the best things about looking into the population health of an area is that it can clue people into what services are more likely to be available to them. If a certain population is suffering from the same types of common vision problems, there is an increased chance that there will be programs in place to help address those specific issues. The beauty of population health is that it can be incredibly effective at pinpointing what problems are affecting a certain area and spurring on healthcare providers and local and federal governmental bodies to implement programs to help manage them.
If someone is living in an area that has reduced access to dental professionals, population health data can let them know how important it is to take care of their teeth to avoid having to make the trip out to the closest dentist. Population health can give residents of any given area a great view of what types of preventative measures that they should be taking to prevent the development of any issues or illnesses that are common to the area.
A great example of what can be done to help maintain population health is playing out across the world at this very moment. COVID-19 is spreading rapidly through the U.S. and around the world and aside from making sure that hands are being effectively washed and that individuals cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing, social distancing is one of the best ways to curb the spread of infectious viruses like COVID-19.
Additionally, population health looks at the environmental factors that can contribute to both physical and mental health issues. If an area is suffering from heightened instances of anxiety and depression in its population, population health data can help to show what might be contributing to those issues. When a population is made aware of what is causing the medical issues in their community, it gives them the ability to stand up and either address it themselves or work with local and federal governments to move towards correcting the contributing factors that are causing illness where they live.
Keeping Yourself (And Your Wallet) Healthy
Perhaps one of the most important reasons to pay attention to population health data and statistics is that when people are able to proactively avoid becoming sick, they are able to save potentially thousands of dollars on treatments.
Healthcare costs in the U.S. continue to rise due to a simultaneously growing and aging population, the prevalence of chronic preventable diseases, and the ever-increasing cost of medicine, medical equipment, and administrative costs. If a population is able to see exactly what is causing them their issues, it can actually help to reduce costs overall over time as fewer people will need treatment.
When a population is able to take preventative healthcare measures into their own hands it reduces the instances of chronic disease in an area. Not only does this save any given area money when it comes to treating those illnesses, but it frees up resources to begin addressing other pressing health issues that the community might be facing. The perfect example of this is the current situation with the novel coronavirus in the US. While younger, generally healthy populations can have very mild symptoms, immunocompromised and elderly populations are at far greater risk.
For this reason, it is important that younger populations try to limit the spread of COVID-19 so that hospitals don’t become overwhelmed and have enough resources to treat those that need it most.
While people can do their own research to see how they can work to prevent developing chronic and deadly illnesses, population health can give them an edge when it comes to keeping themselves out of the hospital. Healthcare costs aren’t likely to drop any time soon, so prevention is currently the best course of action when it comes to taking charge of one’s own health. The statistics and data provided by population health studies are invaluable to people living in areas with high-risk factors for any given illness and can help them to keep themselves and their wallets healthy.