Population Health: Managing Populations vs. Populations Managing Themselves

In a recent interview, the CEO of a large health system described population health as having, “an interest in you as a person and in being responsible for your health…”   While a noble feat, what if health systems instead (or additionally) created partnerships aimed at empowering community members to manage themselves?  This partnership, called a sustainable self-care initiative (SSCI) provides training, technology, and tools to help participants live their best possible lives.  It could work, especially if the health system’s leaders were to embrace the tools, practice the skills, and openly model a healthy way of life.


SSCIs already exist in your health system.  Small pockets of programs that teach, monitor, and help patients manage self-care skills already exist in every health system.  They may be called integrative health, wellness, mind-body skills or cancer survivor programs.  These programs are generally tucked away in a discrete area of the health system with a focus on partnering with a specific population to develop self-care skills.  While these specialized programs are important, imagine the possibilities if we can agree on a definition of self-care skills and make self-care skills training available to everyone, regardless of age or diagnosis.

Health systems need 3 beliefs and 4 components for SSCIs to produce positive outcomes:


Does your health system have these 3 beliefs embedded in your culture?


  1. People WANT to be responsible for their own health
  2. Our health system WANTS people to be healthy
  3. The possibilities around health and well-being are limitless


Are you willing to design an initiative that embraces these 4 components?


Vision: Although you may need to start small, such as with employees (especially pertinent for a self-insured organization) or a certain patient population, your vision should see a future where every community member is supported and energized by your health system’s sustainable self-care initiative (SSCI).

Leadership: Research and experience shows that any self-care initiative fully embraced by the health system’s leaders is more likely to succeed. In our study of healthcare leaders, those with higher self-care scores were more likely to lead profitable organizations.

Structure: At SOHL, we’ve created an evidence-based SSCI structure that will withstand scrutiny, the components of which are included in the graphic below. You will want to put your own stamp on your organization’s SSCI.  Using the SOHL SSCI as your initial foundation is a good place to start.

Tools: Technology to track and measure self-care activities is a crucial component to a successful SSCI.


Not sure where to start? You can access the details of a SSCI here and/or take a look at this graphic of how every stakeholder in a health system benefits from SSCI.

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