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MIT Sloan Management Review: I saw your title, vice president for population health, and I was curious to know a little more about it. What does it mean to be the vice president of population health, and what is population health?
John Glaser: Let’s start out with what population health is, and then move to why it matters. Basically, population health centers on a group of individuals who share a common health challenge or health situation. They might all be going through cancer, or they all have spouses with dementia, or they’re all 25 and really healthy and you just want to keep them healthy. But they have a common health challenge or characteristic.
We will design a series of strategies and tactics that will keep them healthy and make sure that when they seek health care, it is of high quality and very efficient. Population health is defining and managing whatever strategies and tactics are applied to this group. They are intended to achieve certain health care quality, cost, and person-experience goals.
In a way, population health is like being an educator. An educator would formulate an approach to teach a class of 10-year-olds a particular subject, an approach that achieves certain goals of subject comprehension.
Population health complements individual health care delivery, which occurs when you’re in front of your doctor or nurse. It also complements public health. Public health says, “I want to take steps to ensure the health of the community; for example, that the water’s safe and people are being immunized.” You can imagine the Venn diagrams that illustrate overlaps between population health, individual care, and public health.
The reason it matters — and population health has been around for decades — is that health care is in the early stages of a multidecade, fairly significant shift in the business model of care delivery. The shift is largely driven by the fact that medical care costs so much, and continues to cost so much, consuming an amazing amount of the GDP. It’s also pretty uneven in terms of quality.
How has the business model changed? It’s moving from reactive sick care — you’re sick, you show up, we take care of you — to the proactive management of health, where I’m going to reach out and keep you healthy.