Office of the President

June 30, 2017

Deepening our population health partnerships

Ana Mari Cauce

Ana Mari Cauce next to China CDC Director General Wang Yu

With China CDC Director General Wang Yu

The University of Washington is a truly global university, with partners and projects in 129 nations around the world. One unit that has built a worldwide network of collaborators is the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which seeks to use data to support decision-making on a range of issues related to health and health care. Two of its partners are China CDC and the Center for Health Statistics & Information (CHSI), both of which I had the pleasure of visiting today.

At China CDC, Director General Wang Yu and his team outlined how improving population health is a national priority for China.  Like us, they recognize the importance of global health efforts, and they too are involved in Africa. We share the belief that in an increasingly interconnected world, health problems anywhere, if left unattended, can become health problems everywhere.

The challenges China faces will be familiar to anyone who follows health issues in the United States, such as the rising cost of health care. For example, the average Beijing resident spends $1,100 USD per year on health services. Yet in a province 100 kilometers away, the per capita cost is $600, with little difference between the two in residents’ health outcomes.

Staff members of Chinese Center for Health Statistics & Information around a table

Visiting the Center for Health Statistics & Information with Director General Meng Qun (second from left)

At the same time, there are many health disparities between and within provinces and counties, just as there are between and within states and communities in the U.S. The data collected by CHSI, led by Director General Meng Qun, is diving into those disparities. The scale of the task – this really is big data, he said – is immense. In one project, CHSI is collecting information from 900,000 hospitals on 80 million in- and out-patient visits per year. Through this comprehensive approach, CHSI is providing key information to decision-makers, such as the growing economic impact of cancer on China’s population.

During both visits, we talked about ways to build on the partnerships between the UW and these health agencies, for the benefit of practitioners, policymakers and people in the United States, China and around the world. This could include everything from efforts in implementation science, a field in which the UW is a world leader, to partnerships that take a truly multidisciplinary approach to health.

Key to delivering that benefit – to truly improving health and well-being – will be putting data to work, as we’re doing in our efforts to examine health disparities. Ali Mokdad, professor of global health and vice chair of the UW Population Health Initiative, likes to say, “When you see a disparity, you ask ‘Why?’” In answering that question – in finding out why a given community is experiencing a disparity – you can learn how to improve the health and well-being of not just the people in that one community, but in communities like it and in society as a whole.

We’re not going to make meaningful gains in health by treating people only after they start to experience problems. For a range of reasons – from cost-effectiveness to simple morality – we must address these issues before they happen, and that takes a broad-based approach. Medical care is vital, but as we and our colleagues in China are learning, it must be part of a holistic approach that looks at diet and nutrition, how our built environments affect health, the effects of economic and social inequities, and a range of other factors that affect the well-being of every single one of us.

That’s the power of population health, and it’s why I’m so excited about the potential we have to strengthen partnerships with global colleagues who share our passion for the greater good.