Population health data science is a blog that promotes population health, data-driven decision making by integrating three perspectives:
  1. Population health---a systems framework for studying and improving the health of populations through collective action and learning.
  2. Date science---the art and science of transforming data into actionable knowledge.
  3. Lean---systematically developing people to solve problems and consuming the fewest possible resources while continuously improving processes to provide value to community members and prosperity to society (more information at http://phlean.org).

Preliminary definitions

"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" [1].

"Public health is what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy" [2].

Public health leadership is "the practice of mobilizing people, organizations, and communities to effectively tackle tough public health challenges" [3].

Defining population health

Definition 1: "Population health is a systems framework for studying and improving the health of populations through collective action and learning" [4].

Definition 2: Population health is "the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group" [5].

I strongly prefer definition 1: it is socioecologically holistic and action-oriented towards continuous transformation and improvement of complex systems. However, definition 2 has been broadly adopted by official bodies (see, for example, The Practical Playbook at <https://www.practicalplaybook.org/>). To appreciate the different arguments I highly recommend reading Dr. Stoto's article [6]. Also read Dr. Kindig's blog post [7]. 

For me, population health is a call to action for transforming socioecological systems to protect and promote health and equity.

Systems framework

By systems we mean socioecological, lifecourse systems. We live, learn, work, and play in complex social environments. We face seemingly intractable social problems that impact health (poverty, racism, homelessness, ideological conflict, and war). Sometimes simple solutions works, but often they do not. Unfortunately, we must make strategic, operational, and tactical decisions in complex environments in the setting of ambiguity, uncertainty, and urgent time constraints.

The key message is that population health requires systems thinking and being open to exploration and discovery of emergent solutions. This requires diverse, transdisciplinary teams that includes community stakeholders.

Studying and improving

By studying we mean knowledge discovery (research) and community needs assessments, and by improving we mean knowledge deployment and continuous improvement.

Health of populations

By the health of populations we mean the multi-dimensional determinants and outcomes of health and well-being, including the social, economical, cultural, and environmental.  

Collective action

By collective action we mean the cross-sector, trans-disciplinary collaborative partnerships to achieve common goals, which in population health should include the following:
  • Protecting and promoting health and equity
  • Transforming people and place
  • Ensuring a healthy planet
  • Achieving health equity


By learning we mean the continuous improvement of
  • decision making and influencing
  • knowledge discovery and deployment
  • strategy development and deployment
  • collective action and impact

Defining population health data science

Population health is a systems framework for studying and improving the health of populations through collective action and learning.

Data science is the art and science of transforming data into actionable knowledge.

Population health data science (PHDS) is the art and science of transforming data into actionable knowledge to improve population health.

Actionable knowledge is knowledge that informs, influences, or optimizes decision making. Actionable knowledge is the most important concept: without actionable knowledge all you have is data or information.

In public health we promote the idea of data-driven decision making. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done. With the emergence and popularity of data science we have the opportunity to improve our decision making. I believe strongly that the path is through human-centered design (design thinking) of actionable knowledge.

First we need to understand the landscape. Figure displays a simplified view of data analytics. To become data science it must inform, influence, or optimize decision making; i.e., actionable knowledge.

Figure 1: A simplified view of data analytics
Stefan Conrady & Lionel Jouffe. Bayesian Networks and BayesiaLab---A Practical Introduction for Researchers. Bayesia USA, 2015. Available from http://www.bayesia.us.


  1. World Health Organization. WHO definition of Health. Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. World Health Organization. 1948. Available from http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html.
  2. Institute of Medicine, Committee for the Study of the Future of Public Health. The Future of Public Health. National Academy Press, 1988. isbn: 0-309-58190-7. Available from http://www.nap.edu/catalog/1091.html.
  3. James Begun and Jan Malcolm. Leading Public Health: A Competency Framework. 1st ed. Springer Publishing Company, June 4, 2014. isbn: 978-0826199065. Available from http://amzn.com/0826199062.
  4. Aragón TJ, Garcia BA (2017). Population Health Lean: An Overview. eScholarship.org; Available from http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/825430qn 
  5. Kindig D, Stoddart G. What is population health? Am J Public Health. 2003 Mar;93(3):380-3. PubMed PMID: 12604476; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1447747.
  6. Stoto MA. Population Health in the Affordable Care Act Era. Academy Health Report 2013. Available from http://www.academyhealth.org/files/AH2013pophealth.pdf
  7. Kindig D. What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Population Health? Health Affairs Blog 2015. Available from http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2015/04/06/what-are-we-talking-about-when-we-talk-about-population-health/


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