“Population health” is a term frequently used in both healthcare and public health. It has been used to mean different things, depending on context and perspective. In order to assist AAFP members to understand population health, this definition defines population health from the perspective of the family physician.
Population health is “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group” (Kindig and Stoddart, 2003). The population being considered may vary based on an individual’s perspective and goals. For the family physician, the most obvious “group of individuals” is their patient panel. This is where most AAFP members focus their energies and where they often have the greatest impact. Population health also includes the health status and outcomes of the larger communities to which the physician and patient belong. It is essential when caring for their patients that family physicians consider the factors beyond the walls of their practice that influence their patients’ health. The family physician must consider the social and physical environments in which their patients live and work in order to effectively improve health outcomes.
As the healthcare system works to integrate primary care and public health, family physicians and the patient centered medical home will have more opportunities to partner with community resources and advocate for policies and interventions in these communities aimed at influencing social determinants of health and improving health outcomes.