Workplace Wellness

What is Population Health & Why is Population Health Important

Written by Kate

In recent years, population health has emerged as an emerging and important topic for business leaders. As the workforce continues to evolve, the number of people needing care and those with chronic conditions has grown dramatically. For example, heart disease is now a leading cause of death among adults aged 45-64, and diabetes rates have quadrupled since 1990.

This is concerning because more people are working in their golden years, and that trend is expected to continue. For employers, these demographic shifts mean urgent rethinking of how to manage employees’ health risks and plan accordingly. That’s where the population health framework comes in.

In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into what Population Health is, explore the factors that affect it and explain how it can benefit your organization. We’ll also provide actionable steps for HR professionals and business owners to implement.

What is Population Health & Why is Population Health Important?

The American Journal of Public Health defines population health as “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.” Population in this context refers to geographic regions such as nations or communities but can also refer to other groups with similar needs and characteristics.

According to the New York State Department of Health, “population health refers to the health status and health outcomes within a group of people rather than considering the health of one person at a time.”

At its core, population health aims to improve the overall quality of life through a three-pronged approach:

  • Reducing illness or disability by reducing disease risk
  • Preventing new cases of illness
  • Ensuring access to appropriate services for those with existing conditions

To achieve that, population health takes into account not only the physical health of individuals but also their social and economic well-being. It goes beyond clinical interventions and focuses on upstream causes, including education, poverty reduction, employment opportunities, affordable housing, insurance coverage, access to healthy food, etc. In other words, population health is all about “the power of we” and working together for good to promote healthier lifestyles for all.

The idea of population health is not a new concept. Epidemiologists applied it in the mid and late 1800s to fight chronic illnesses. Today, population health management remains relevant as employers across all industries face many common challenges: higher healthcare costs, an aging workforce, and worker productivity issues due to numerous health issues.

What are the 4 components of Population Health?

Population health is an interdisciplinary concept that connects practice and policies. Let’s take a closer look at the four key components of population health and how they relate to the workplace:

  1. Health outcomes

These are the potential health and well-being indicators of a population. They are the most obvious and tangible aspect of population health and are frequently used to track the overall health of a workforce over time. For example, if more employees are taking time off sick, the workforce’s overall health needs to improve.

  1. Determinants of health

Population health is a sum total of many factors. These can be age, gender, genetics, income level, or even healthcare access. In a corporate setting, job security, stress levels, and the availability of wellness programs can make all the difference. For example, an overworked and stressed employee is more likely to be unhealthy than one who feels supported.

  1. Distribution of health outcomes

Health outcomes aren’t uniform in an entire population. For example, male and female employees will have different health outcomes at different times. Likewise, employees at different levels in the company may show diverse health patterns.

  1. Health systems and policies

This aspect of population health management covers the various organizations, institutions, and resources that contribute to the delivery of healthcare services. Businesses may need to collaborate with hospitals, clinics, health insurance companies, and public health agencies to create policies and interventions that support employee health.

Why is Population Health important?                    

There are key reasons why organizations are increasingly shifting their focus toward population health management:

Increased Productivity

Employee productivity is a key metric for any organization. Healthy employees are the backbone of a successful organization, and, consequently, the economy.

Employee Retention

U.S. employers lose a trillion dollars every year from voluntary turnover. This is unsustainable in the long run and a headache many businesses can do without. Prioritizing employee health can give you an edge in the talent war because health is linked to employee engagement and retention (a critical gauge of employee experience). This is particularly important in industries with high turnover and a tight labor market.

Control Healthcare Costs

Over 51.8% of adults in the U.S. have a chronic illness that requires ongoing management by both patients and physicians. 27.2% have more than one illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 86% of annual U.S. healthcare spending goes to chronic illness management. A healthy workforce is less likely to require expensive medical treatments and procedures, leading to lower healthcare costs for the organization. Chronic disease management can be very expensive, so it’s better to focus on population health initiatives before it is too late. Many employers use population health analytics, in order to gauge the effectiveness of reducing healthcare costs through population health measures.

Positive Reputation

Consumers care about more than just the product or service you offer. The Harvard Business Review reports they also care about your company’s culture and wellness practices. According to a recent McKinsey & Co. report, companies that prioritize the health and well-being of their employees are more likely to attract customers who value these practices. This can increase your organization’s appeal and give it a competitive advantage.

Compliance with Legal Obligations

Companies have to operate within certain limits. These include following certain laws and rules that ensure the workplace is safe and the employees are healthy and well. Focusing on population health helps employers comply and avoid getting in trouble with the authorities. 

Improved Employee satisfaction       

Healthy employees are happy employees. And happy employees tend to be more satisfied with their jobs and employer. You can improve employee satisfaction by promoting healthy habits, providing preventative care, and creating a culture of wellness. Some employers even offer quick and fun initiatives such as wellness challenges. This can lead to employees being more engaged in their work, staying with the company longer, and being more productive.

What are the Goals of Population Health?

In its simplest form, population health is all about delivering the right intervention, at the right time, at the right place, to the right individual. It’s being proactive in patient care, partnering with healthcare solution providers, and staying on top of employee wellness. We do this by focusing on several specific goals:

  1. Improving health outcomes: This means reducing the number of people with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. We also want to ensure people live healthy lifestyles by encouraging regular exercise, healthy eating and addressing issues like stress.
  2. Addressing determinants of health: These are things that affect a person’s health, such as genetics, income and education level, and access to healthcare. For example, someone with a stable job and access to wellness programs at work is more likely to be healthy. (Check out our in-depth wellness program guide for more information on workplace wellness.)
  1. Reducing health disparities: Unfortunately, different social groups may have different health statuses. This could be because of things like their race or where they live. We want to ensure everyone has the same chance to be healthy, so we work to identify and address the gaps. Reducing inequalities helps create equitable and inclusive workplaces.
  2. Coordinating and improving the quality of healthcare services: This means making sure all the different healthcare services a person might need, like primary care and mental health care (addressing mental health in the workplace), work well together. It also means ensuring people receive high-quality care based on the best research.
  3. Engaging communities through workplace health promotion and disease prevention: We can’t improve population health without the input and participation of those who make up that population. Consequently, we must involve employees, community members, and other stakeholders in population health decision-making. Their input can help design, implement and evaluate population health programs. This helps ensure the programs are relevant, effective, and sustainable.

What Factors Affect Population Health?

Population health encompasses many aspects of wellness. Dr. Kenneth Cohn, the CEO of Healthcare Collaboration, aptly captures this sentiment:

“To me, population health involves the health of the community,” Dr. Kenneth says. “It implies wellness promotion as well as the treatment of new and chronic illnesses throughout the care continuum. It also implies improving the health of people previously undermanaged, such as the poor in terms of conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer.”

If we look at it this way, it’s apparent various factors play an integral role in influencing this overall well-being. These factors include social determinants, lifestyle choices, physical environment, and genetics. Let’s take a closer look at each of these to see how they can influence our population’s health. 

Socioeconomic Determinants of Health

The combination of where we are born, grow, live, work, and age affects a wide range of health outcomes. Collectively, these factors are called social determinants of health. They include things like education, income, occupation, ethnicity, gender, social class, etc. People with a higher income level, more education, and better occupation typically have better health than those without. In the workplace, overworked and stressed employees are more likely to experience poor health outcomes than employees who feel supported and engaged.

Environmental Factors

The physical and social environments in which people live, work and play significantly impact population health. Such factors include air and water quality, exposure to toxins, and access to green spaces. For example, someone living or working in old buildings with lead paint can suffer from high blood pressure, headaches, and memory loss. Poor indoor air quality puts asthmatic people at risk. Similarly, poor lighting and ergonomics can also affect employee well-being and productivity.

Behavioral and Lifestyle Factors

A person’s lifestyle and daily habits significantly impact population health. Take tobacco use, for example. According to the CDC, “cigarette smoking is the major cause of preventable mortality and morbidity in the United States.” Smoking causes an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic bronchitis. Secondhand smoke is just as harmful, contributing to 41,000 deaths among non-smoking adults yearly. Solutions for this include providing opportunities for physical activity and enforcing smoking policies in the workplace, such as a smoking cessation program.

Genetics and Biological Factors

Genetics and biological factors, such as age, sex, and underlying health conditions, also play a crucial role in population health. For example, the average life expectancy for men in the U.S. at birth for men is 73.2, and 79.1 for women. The same trend is seen in ethnicity. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report states, “People of color are more likely to experience certain birth risks and adverse birth outcomes compared to White people.” Genetics also play a role in determining things like disability, height, and weight, which impact the overall health of your body.

Health Systems and Policies

The type and quality of healthcare available to people contributes significantly to population health. From access to skilled clinicians to availability of medicine, having healthcare options matters. Access to preventive care, employee assistance programs, and health insurance can reduce the risk of poor health outcomes and greatly boost population health management initiatives.

How do you Achieve Population Health?

In the past, healthcare organizations focused primarily on providing acute care for individual patients. That is changing thanks to the growing awareness of population health and a shift in culture towards preventing disease rather than treating it. Consequently, organizations are now addressing broader goals, such as improving wellness and reducing disparities.

While healthcare is still an essential service that needs to be provided to individuals with acute illnesses or emergencies, achieving population health requires a multi-pronged approach. Here are several key steps you can take to achieve population health in your organization:

Conduct a needs assessment

The first step in achieving population health is understanding the current health status of your workforce and identifying areas for improvement. This can be done by conducting a needs assessment, which involves collecting data on employee health status, absenteeism, and overall productivity.

Engage all stakeholders

A population health initiative must have stakeholders’ buy-in to work. Involve participants from the first step and effectively communicate how the strategy aligns with your organization’s overall strategy and policies. This will help them see the importance of having a PHI and boost motivation.

Select health outcomes to prioritize

Each organization has unique health needs. Identify the most pressing needs of your key populations and their source. This will give you more insight into the type of interventions you need to implement and resource allocation to achieve better health outcomes.

Developing a strategic plan

Once you’ve identified the gaps, the next step is to develop a strategic plan that addresses the specific needs of your workforce. This plan should include measurable goals, objectives, and strategies for improving employee health outcomes and addressing determinants of health.

Implementing workplace wellness programs

Workplace wellness programs are one of the most effective ways to improve health outcomes across all demographics in your organization. A Focus on Wellness report by the American Hospital Association found that:

  • 18,000 lives could be saved through screening all persons over 50 for colorectal cancer.
  • 70,000 lives could be saved by providing smoking cessation counseling to all smokers.
  • 300,000 lives and $177 billion in health care costs could be saved by helping individuals achieve a healthy weight.
  • Up to $13 billion in healthcare costs could be saved through better primary care management to reduce hospital admissions for conditions like asthma, diabetes, and hypertension.
  • Better management of these diseases could significantly reduce the 164 million lost work days – and associated costs to employers of $30 billion – due to asthma, diabetes, and hypertension.

Wellness programs can include on-site health screenings, flu shots, vaccinations, and programs that promote healthy habits, such as physical activity and nutrition.

Evaluating and monitoring progress

Continuously monitoring and evaluating the progress of your population health initiatives is crucial to ensure your efforts are having a positive impact on employee health outcomes. It also helps track necessary adjustments. Below are some specific ways to do so, and there is a growing number of helpful software solutions that can help you accomplish them.

  • Measure and track key metrics: Identify the specific metrics that are important for your organization, for instance, absenteeism, health claims, employee engagement, and productivity. Regularly track and measure these metrics to gauge the impact of your population health initiatives and identify areas that need improvement.
  • Use data to inform decisions: Use the data collected from your metrics to inform future decisions and strategies. For example, if absenteeism is high, it may indicate that stress levels among employees are high. This may warrant implementing an employee assistance program or other stress management initiatives.
  • Conduct regular employee surveys: Regularly surveying employees can provide valuable insights into their perceptions of the workplace, including their physical and mental well-being, stress levels, and overall engagement. Technological developments have made this easier. Use this data to identify areas of concern and opportunities for improvement. Many employers also help employees track their physical health metrics through wearable technology.
  • Evaluate the ROI of your initiatives: It’s essential to evaluate your population health initiatives return on investment (ROI). This includes measuring the costs of implementing a program and comparing it to the benefits, such as reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.
  • Continuously adapt and improve: Trends change daily, so pivoting is critical to achieving and maintaining population health. Keep an open mind, and be willing to adjust your initiatives as needed. Seek feedback regularly from employees and other stakeholders to maintain a robust population health management program.

What are examples of Population Health management?

Population Health Management (PHM) is a systematic approach to improving the health outcomes of a specific population by addressing the determinants of health that contribute to these outcomes. 

In the business landscape, PHM includes activities such as assessing the health status of employees, identifying health risks, and implementing interventions aimed at improving employee health and well-being. Here are some examples of PHM initiatives that H.R. professionals can implement in their organizations:

  1. Health Risk Assessments: HRAs are tools used to identify the specific health risks of employees and monitor them over time. These assessments can include physical exams, health questionnaires, and laboratory tests. The results of these assessments can be used to create individualized health plans for employees, which can include things like health coaching, exercise programs, and nutrition counseling. Many employers also couple this initiative with biometric testing.
  2. Employee Assistance Programs: EAPs are designed to provide employees with confidential counseling and support services to help them cope with personal and work-related problems. They can be used to educate and offer practical health solutions. EAPs can include grief counseling, financial advice, legal assistance, etc.
  3. Health and Safety Programs: Health and Safety Programs are designed to promote employees’ physical and emotional well-being. Practices like ergonomic assessments, safety training, and injury prevention programs aim to reduce the risk of workplace injuries and illnesses.
  4. Health Incentives: Health incentives encourage employees to take personal accountability. These incentives can include things like financial rewards for completing health screenings, offering employee benefits (or fringe benefits) to encourage healthy behaviors, or participating in wellness programs. Some employers offer non-monetary incentives such as time off or flexible work arrangements.
  5. Telemedicine and Virtual Care: Telemedicine and virtual care are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace as a way to improve access to healthcare for employees. This can include virtual doctor consultations, remote monitoring, and telehealth services using wellness apps.

What does a Population Health team do?

A Population Health team is responsible for identifying and addressing the factors that affect the health outcomes of a specific population. The team’s main goal is to improve the health and well-being of the population they serve while also reducing healthcare costs. The specific duties of a Population Health team typically include:

  1. Conducting health assessments: The team uses data from various sources, such as health claims, employee surveys, and vital signs data, to understand the health status of the population, identify health risks, and prioritize areas for improvement. (Here’s our employee wellness survey guide, complete with a free survey template!)
  2. Developing and implementing population health initiatives: After identifying specific health risks, the team develops and implements interventions to address these risks. These interventions can include health coaching, disease management programs, and other targeted interventions to improve employee health outcomes.
  3. Coordinating care: The team coordinates care across different healthcare providers, including primary care physicians, specialists, and hospitals, to ensure fast response when needed.
  1. Measuring and reporting performance: They also use data from various sources to track and measure the performance of population health initiatives. This enables them to evaluate the effectiveness of the initiatives and identify areas for improvement.
  2. Communicating with stakeholders: The team communicates regularly with stakeholders, including employees, managers, and senior leaders, to ensure that they understand their role in promoting employee health.


Population health is an important factor in the overall well-being of an organization, and its employees. Poor health outcomes can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life and economic productivity for individuals and organizations. Employers play an important role in helping to improve population health by providing access to holistic wellness programs for their employees.

IncentFit offers personalized wellness programs that are tailored to meet the needs of each individual employee. These programs help employers provide comprehensive solutions that address both physical and mental health, leading to improved health outcomes for their employees and their families. By investing in population health through IncentFit’s holistic wellness programs, employers can create healthier work environments for their staff and ultimately reduce healthcare costs for everyone involved.

Check out our CompleteHealth solution which is designed to improve all aspects of personal, and population wellness for your organization. Our solution offers an all-inclusive, fully customizable wellness program that caters to all aspects of personal and communal wellness. With our smart Recommendation Engine, CompleteHealth ensures each employee receives hands-on, individualized guidance through their personal wellness journey.

Corporate Wellness Benefit Managers having a discussion while looking at an electronic tablet.

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