What is Population Health

The hallmarks of population health are an ecological understanding of the determinants of health and a systems approach to solving health problems; emphasis on stabilizing and improving health among all populations; and insistence on accountability, evidence-based practice, and continuous performance improvement in all efforts undertaken to improve health. The population health approach requires multi-disciplinary collaboration among scholars in the social, clinical, and basic sciences and humanities; development of comprehensive, sophisticated health information systems; and use of advanced analytical tools to examine health problems and evaluate responses to them. Like other programs that emphasize a population health approach, Stony Brook's training is grounded in epidemiology, biostatistics, and a synthesis of concepts and tools from the social sciences and econometrics that help to understand health and disease in populations. The program addresses problems of disease causation and prevention, the multiple determinants of population health, optimal health care delivery, and allocation of health-related resources.

According to the Association of Schools of Public Health, public health and the clinical professions are distinct. While public health is comprised of many professionals from disciplines such as medicine, dentistry, nursing, optometry, nutrition, social work, environmental sciences, health education, health services administration, and the behavioral sciences, their activities focus on entire populations rather than on individual patients.

For example, doctors treat the individual one on one for a specific disease or injury. Thus, patients need medical care only part of the time...namely, when they are ill. Public health professionals on the other hand, monitor and diagnose the healthy. Thus, communities need public health all of the time in order to stay healthy.

For example, this population-based approach to health:

  • Assures our drinking and recreational waters are safe
  • Prevents pollution of our air and land through enforcement of regulatory controls and management of hazardous wastes
  • Eradicates life threatening diseases such as small pox and polio
  • Controls and prevents infectious diseases and outbreaks such as measles, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and the Ebola virus
  • Reduces death and disability due to unintentional injuries through the formulation of policies designed to protect the safety of the public, such as seat belt and worker safety laws
  • Facilitates community empowerment to improve mental health and reduce substance abuse and obesity
  • Educates populations at risk to reduce sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and infant mortality
  • Assures access to cost-effective care
  • Evaluates the effectiveness of clinical and community-based interventions

Next (The Ten Essential Public Health Services)