A respected colleague recently emailed a response to the post on advance directives that “it could imply that everything is about population health (which, as you and I agree, I hope) doesn’t do much to advance the cause of purchasing population health.”
Hmmm…if it’s everything, is it nothing? A look at the population health model underpinning this blog and all I work on in population health, suggests that indeed it is perhaps everything: a broad set of outcomes produced by a comprehensive set of determinants which are influenced or activated by programs and policies in the public and private sectors.
You will not, however, find me blogging on each and every micro-determinant or program/policy that theoretically and actually has some detectable impact on population health outcomes. What is then the decision rule that makes a topic of program or policy of importance not only for this blog but for public and private policy makers?
In this resource-limited world, I believe the criterion should be largely based on economics, and in particular, the relative effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the determinant or the program and policy on health outcomes. I have previously noted that we do not yet have adequate evidence to make this an easy exercise. Research is needed to explore the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of broad policies and programs designed to effect health improvement at the population level. Some investments have an evidence base, like smoking cessation and immunization and early childhood programs. Other investments, such as removing the LAST microgram of a toxic substance in a Superfund site, would probably have some marginal effectiveness but extremely low cost-effectiveness.
Of course, determining what action to take toward health improvement is hardly straightforward. Decision makers must weigh not only on available evidence on effectiveness and cost-effectiveness but must also take into account many other factors, especially resource (financial and nonfinancial) and political supports and constraints.
As we try to cover topics that address all parts of our population health model, I would welcome feedback as to whether you either KNOW or SUSPECT that any program or policy we discuss is of such low cost-effectiveness as to not meet my criterion above.
David A. Kindig, MD, PhD, is Emeritus Professor of Population Health Sciences and Emeritus Vice-Chancellor for Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He is on the road this month, conducting site visits for the Roadmaps to Health Prize. During this time we will be featuring a couple of popular posts from our archives.