The Complexity of Population Health

I love when I hear patients ask why healthcare isn’t managing populations better than they do today. There’s a certain naivety by a lot of patients who don’t understand our health system. They learn really quickly once they get a chronic disease or are otherwise forced to learn about the health system. The reality today is that managing populations is not the current business model. Plus, most people underestimate how hard it is to really do population health effectively.

This was illustrated really well to me when Orion Health shared the following graphic with me that shows the steps needed to do population health effectively:

Many like to look at population health as a data project and no doubt data plays a big part in doing population health effectively. However, managing the data is just one small part of the bigger whole. Unlike a data integration or data interoperability project which is largely a tech project, population health requires both the technical and clinical skills to be effective. Combining these two worlds makes the project so much harder. Plus, it’s why we see so many organizations partnering with vendors that have already bridged this gap for the healthcare organization.

I’m reminded of something my friend, Dirk Stanley, MD, MPH, a CMIO and healthcare informatics addict says about these types of processes. In order for a project to be successful, you have to follow the recipe. When you leave something out of the recipe, you can end up with disastrous results. It’s no wonder why people don’t get the desired results from their population health efforts when they want to shortcut the process. of the recipe. The same is true in pop health

As this other image illustrates, the human body is complex:

Most healthcare organizations are trying to treat a patient and do population health with just 3 of the 8 boxes listed in the graphic above. Healthcare organizations have most of the clinical, claims, and medication data. Although, even that can often outdated, incomplete, and inaccurate. However, very few have the rest of the SDoH (Social Determinants of Health) data that’s really needed to understand the patient’s whole story.

If you want to do population health effectively, you need the right data. However, you also need the right people behind it. Access to the data is step one, but don’t sidestep all the other steps in the process or you’ll have a recipe for disaster. Population health is not a tech project. It’s not a clinical project. It takes both to do it effectively.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.