Trending: Population Health

Via JAMA Network Open, leaders from department-level initiatives across the U.S. weigh in on how academic medicine is embracing population health — and the opportunities med schools have to make an impact.

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Bill Tierney (left), Belinda Reininger, Maureen Durkin, Judith Wylie-Rosett, Angela Fagerlin, Carol R. Horowitz, Marc N. Gourevitch and Lesley H. Curtis

In 2017, representatives of nine population health-focused departments of U.S. medical schools arrived in Austin to meet with William “Bill” Tierney, who was at the time organizing the newest of them. Tierney, chair of the emergent Department of Population Health at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, wanted their ideas.

A year later, by November 2018, there were 15 departments with “population” in their names at accredited, Association of American Medical Colleges schools, and leaders of the 2017 convening were preparing to publish an analysis of the trend.

Opportunities for Medical Schools

Titled “The Emergence of Population Health in U.S. Academic Medicine” and published in April in JAMA Network Open, the analysis identifies five opportunities for U.S. medical schools to advance population health. In the authors’ words, they are:

  1. Promoting a holistic view of health that includes both clinical and social determinants of health, well-being, disease and disability and the multidisciplinary and cross-sector interventions and policies required to address them, such as early childhood education, economic development and environmental protection. This would help extend the engagement of health care beyond its principal focus on sick care — diagnosis and treatment — to encompass both traditional and upstream approaches to prevention.
  2. Engaging community residents and leaders as equal partners in health improvement, including generating ideas to overcome local barriers to progress. This requires information-sharing, mutual trust and respect, intensive listening and understanding the history of experiences each party brings to the conversation.
  3. Supporting health care delivery systems in addressing high levels of social need, including those of high-cost patients, in part by facilitating engagement with community resources.
  4. Reinvigorating institutional acceptance of a social justice mission as integral to health care delivery.
  5. Training the next generation of scholars to solve the pressing challenges of improving population health advancing health equity.