The Past, Present, and Future of Population Health Research


What is Population Health? In a nutshell, Population Health is just what it says: providing for the health of a population. This is the work of many healthcare organizations, including Intermountain Healthcare’s system of hospitals and clinics, the Public Health Department, insurance companies, and many other groups who are accountable for the health of a population.


Why use a Population Health management system? In the past, healthcare systems took a “medicalization” approach to health. This perspective tends to define health problems as a result of individual failures of biology, hygiene, and behavior, and addressed these problems through biomedical treatments. However, it doesn’t consider determinants of a population that include, the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work, their genetics, and the systems put into place to deal with illness. In contrast, Population Health is a comprehensive approach to treating illness that includes analyzing personal health information, collaboration across health organizations, understanding policies, and designing preventive interventions.


At Intermountain we conduct clinical research on Population Health which allows us to continually improve patient care through evidence-based science. Key Population Health drivers include:


  1. Aligned financial models within a healthcare system
  2. Effective health promotion, prevention, and self-management to improve the health and wellness
  3. Measurement and monitoring of what matters
  4. Reduction or elimination of unnecessary care
  5. Meeting the majority of health needs with high quality primary care plus community-based services
  6. High quality hospital care transition services
  7. Innovation, productivity, and efficiency in the delivery of health services


Why is researching Population Health more important than ever today? Dr. Savitz pointed to a disturbing trend in a resent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Life expectancy at birth increased 0.4 years for black men, 0.2 years for Hispanic women and 0.1 years for Hispanic men in 2014, but declined 0.1 years for white women. "This is the first time in over 20 years that a decline in life expectancy at birth has been observed for any group in the United States," the report notes. One-tenth may seem like a small decrease in life expectancy, but it is rare to see a change in this direction.


However, Dr. Savitz is encouraged by the results seen so far at Intermountain.  A patient being treated at Intermountain for Parkinson’s disease now spends only one hour in neurological healthcare treatment and 8,765 hours in self care per year. These patients have a more robust support system to keep themselves healthy and to manage their chronic illnesses while spending less time in clinical care and more time living their lives.


While such an approach requires a lot of research, work, and change, for Intermountain, Population Health represents a promising model that aligns with our mission of helping people live the healthiest lives possiblesm.


Intermountain currently has more than 1,500 active research studies in more than 20 clinical areas. The core of Intermountain research takes place within our 10 clinical programs: Behavioral Health, Cardiovascular, Intensive Medicine, Musculoskeletal, Neurosciences, Oncology, Pediatrics, Primary Care, Surgical Services, and Women & Newborns.

To find out more about Intermountain Healthcare Research and the advancement of medical knowledge in many clinical areas visit