You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about population health lately.

But what exactly does it mean, and why is it so important?

Population health is a somewhat modern approach to health and health management that, at its heart, aims to improve the well-being of the entire population at large and reduce inequities and barriers to care among select populations.

It focuses on the set of interrelated conditions and factors, environmental and other, that influence the health of specific populations over the course of their life. It also identifies and studies the systematic variations and the effect of these patterns as they occur over the lifespan of the population.

The acquired knowledge is applied at local, national and international levels to develop and implement systems, policies and actions to improve the health and well-being of the affected populations, with the goal of creating a healthier future for the entire population.

Often, it represents a shift in our collective thinking about how health is defined, particularly related to human development and the prevention of disease.

Interdisciplinary in nature, population health relies on a customizable approach to enable health departments to match policies to practice and create the grounds for systemic and individual change at a local level.

Population health engages various sectors of the community, particularly public health, industry, academia, epidemiologists, health care, local government entities, and community leaders to identify and implement initiatives designed to achieve positive health outcomes.

While the notion of population health dates back to the Industrial Revolution, the modern notion of population health is generally accepted to date back to 2003 when David Kindig and Greg Stoddart published an article in the American Journal of Public Health, defining population health “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.”

Population health, when implemented properly, can reduce the overall healthcare spend and optimize costs and patient outcomes. What’s more, it can also equip local and larger-scale systems with the skills and knowledge to have a beneficial impact on all citizens. Through a better understanding of the social determinants of health and their impact on society at large, a better, more integrated and cost-effective system will benefit everyone.