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Direct primary care and population health

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A growing number of direct primary care (DPC) physicians are working with employer groups to provide healthcare for the company’s employees. The DPC model has come to be recognized as a quality alternative to traditional workplace medical insurance. When an employer contracts with a DPC to provide healthcare services to its employees, by its very nature the DPC practice becomes focused on the population health of the employer group.

Population health is a relatively new term, having been coined in 2003 by David Kindig and Greg Stoddart. They defined it then as “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sees population health as “an interdisciplinary, customizable approach that allows health departments to connect practice to policy for change to happen locally.” The CDC adds that the population health approach “utilizes non-traditional partnerships among different sectors of the community – public health, industry, academia, health care, local government entities, etc. – to achieve positive health outcomes.”

HIMSS emphasizes that population health “brings significant health concerns into focus and addresses ways in which communities, healthcare providers, and public health organizations can allocate resources to overcome the problems that drive poor health conditions in the population, e.g. diabetes, obesity, autism, heart disease, etc.” In addition, HIMSS states that “Information technology is a part of the core infrastructure on which population health can be assessed and addressed.”

Those partnerships referred to by the CDC and HIMSS include DPC practice and the independent physicians that run them. DPC physicians generally either began their practice or converted their practice out of a desire to focus more on each patient and, in particular, the quality health outcomes of those patients. When a DPC contracts with an employer, the physician and the practice staff naturally desire to “address the health status and health issues of the aggregate population,” as the non-profit organization HIMSS describes population health.