Understanding Population Health and Librarian Support
Written by Terri Ottosen, Consumer Health Coordinator, National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Southeastern/Atlantic Region.
Contact Terri at: firstname.lastname@example.org
An interesting new buzzword is intriguing me lately. It’s called population health, and the term has been around for over 10 years. The American Public Health Association defines it as “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.” David Kindig and Greg Stoddart wrote an article in March 2003, published in the American Journal of Public Health that discussed the relatively new term and the fact that it hadn’t yet been precisely defined. (http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.93.3.380) They argued that “the field of population health includes health outcomes, patterns of health determinants, and policies and interventions that link these two.” Many health organizations now have divisions or projects in population health management and researchers are increasingly giving their attention to population health and the opportunities it provides for improving the U.S. health care system, including costs and individual experiences of care.
In a publication by Academy Health, “Population Health in the Affordable Care Act Era,” Michael A. Stoto, Ph.D., writes about the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the implications for addressing population health. He believes that it addresses it in four ways: one, the provisions to expand insurance coverage aim to improve population health by improving access to the health care delivery system, which is critical to any community’s health. Second, it aims to improve the quality of care delivered. Third, a less well-known provision of the ACA, seeks to enhance prevention and health promotion measures within the health care delivery system. Finally, the fourth provision aims at promoting community- and population-based activities, including the establishment of the National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council, which has already produced the mandated National Prevention Strategy (DHHS 2011) as well as a new Prevention and Public Health Fund (authorized at $1 billion in fiscal year 2012) and funding for Community Transformation Grants (https://www.academyhealth.org/files/AH2013pophealth.pdf).
Much of the literature is focused on the education and roles of public health professionals, but I believe health sciences and public librarians can play a part in the education of the public and health sciences students by integrating and exploring partnerships and through information and health literacy training. All efforts should work toward the ultimate goal of an engaged, healthy, and knowledgeable patient population. Librarians can demonstrate and provide training on using resources for comparative effectiveness or “how to read a study” and critical appraisal. I think consumers can be trained to critically evaluate items they hear in the news or when they are researching treatment options. Classes are available from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Southeastern Atlantic Region (http://nnlm.gov/sea/training), both in-person and online for anyone wanting to know more about reliable health information resources.
I recently read an article about a new analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), published in the American Journal of Medicine. This article reveals that in the past 20 years, there is a sharp decrease in physical exercise and an increase in average body mass index (BMI), while caloric intake remains steady. Investigators theorized that a nationwide drop in leisure-time physical activity may be responsible for the upward trend in obesity rates. This comes on the heels of many recent media reports that caution people about the dangers of sitting too much (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/). One takeaway of the research article is that increased caloric intake is often blamed for rising rates of obesity. There are no direct associations found in this study, but rather a trend over time that lack of physical activity correlates with high BMI numbers in America. (http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(14)00191-0/abstract)
As we increasingly hear and read these studies, more evidence and important information relevant to our overall individual health will result. This makes me ponder, how can we as librarians and information professionals be involved? What should our roles be within our institutions and what are the implications for outreach? The results of these studies are interesting. To me, they suggest that “we” should focus on movement and exercise more and emphasize the benefits of physical activity. The NN/LM SE/A has received some fantastic funding proposals in the last couple of years that incorporate movement and fitness into their programming and training. (http://nnlm.gov/sea/funding/projects.html) I think this is a step towards improving the health of our communities and institutions.