School of Nursing

October 12, 2017

Population health: A new lens for viewing the healthcare mission

Azita Emami

Whether measured on a per capita basis or as a percentage of GDP, Washington state and the country as a whole spend more money on healthcare than in countries that achieve better health outcomes.

“Healthcare” has unfortunately come to be defined as treating illness. Yet there is increasing recognition that it is more economical, humane and productive to foster wellness as a primary goal, thus reducing the need to treat illness.

In examining global data, demographers and nursing researchers have repeatedly found that where there is greater attention to the social determinants of health, such as economics, education, and access to primary and preventive care, the health of the population improves.

Nursing has been a leader among healthcare professions in calling for a population health approach that reorients the healthcare mission to seek more wellness for more people at less cost by treating many of the root causes of illness, while providing equitable access to primary and preventive healthcare.

There is a crucial role to be played by nursing, for two reasons. First, nurses are providing an ever-increasing percentage of the primary care in the state and nation, particularly in rural, inner city and other chronically underserved areas. Access to primary care is a crucial component in efforts to improve population health. By offering Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs, we are preparing nurses to help create more robust primary care availability.

Second, nursing tradition has long embraced education, prevention, chronic-care management and advocacy, all of which are key elements in fostering better population health.

We recognize that in order to change healthcare, we must begin by enhancing nursing education. We are undertaking major efforts to see that population health is an embedded part of every nursing class, at every level. We want to baccalaureate-prepared nurses to be prepared to deliver chronic disease management and prevention services as well as address the social determinants of health through assessment, leadership, collaborative practice, and policy development. The prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which concentrates on healthcare, has suggested a list of core competencies related to population health nursing that should be integrated into the nursing curriculum

We recognize, too, that a population health approach requires that we extend interprofessional education and research collaboration to include not only other healthcare professions, but also other disciplines whose knowledge and research will make important contributions to improving population health.

At the UW School of Nursing, we are committed to preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s nursing challenges. We know that population health presents an opportunity for a truly transformative moment in American healthcare, and we are enhancing our curriculum at every level to educate nurses to have not only clinical competence, but also the skills of advocacy, administration, and policy making that will enable them to work with legislative leaders to provide create all the conditions needed for better population health.