Population health could disrupt your association’s mission

Associations of many types may find they have a public health mission they never anticipated while healthcare focused primarily on treating individuals rather than creating healthy environments for entire populations.

Healthcare associations representing healthcare providers--institutions and professions--are now envisioning roles they might play alongside the public health professionals who have always organized their work around communities and population health. The ASAE ForesightWorks research identified population health as a driver of change in 2019 and described this systems perspective as a slow-developing paradigm shift in how we address health.

In a population health paradigm, nontraditional stakeholders can be drawn from a wide variety of industries such as food and agribusiness, the built environment, transportation and education. Employers can look at the prevalent health risks within their workforce such as common health and safety risks or mental health risks stemming from work-life balance issues and stressful working conditions.

Within the healthcare professions, some individual practitioners are adapting their expertise to the population health environment and exploring how they can contribute to communal wellness. What limits these pioneers now are existing models for funding healthcare and reimbursing their services.  Healthcare associations can find ways to support these individuals and encourage public policies and funding mechanisms that make their work possible.

Our growing ability to crunch massive data pools to identify patterns of health risks and predict the outcomes from possible interventions may accelerate the shift to a population health paradigm. The return on public investment is easily in the billions when thousands of people are diverted from chronic disease and other life-limiting conditions.

Associations electing to explore the population health paradigm are discovering some surprising allies and newfound interest from government agencies that had not seen their potential to intervene in public health priorities. As population health becomes the priority, some companies and organizations could face greater liability for their contributions to poor health. Associations need to anticipate this potential risk and help members evolve their businesses.  

Whether we do shift significant human talent and financial resources from treating people after they become sick to helping them become and stay healthy is a values shift of profound scope and impact. It’s a revealing couple of question for any association to explore: In what ways do we now profit from wasteful systems and our misplaced values? What could we do today to disrupt and redesign the systems in which we operate to contribute to a healthier society?