Leveraging population health expertise to enhance community benefit

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As the Internal Revenue Service strengthens the public health focus of community benefit regulations, and many states do the same with their tax codes, hospitals are being asked to look beyond patients in their delivery system to understand and address the needs of geographic areas. With the opportunities this affords come challenges to be addressed. The regulations' focus on population health is not limited to a defined clinical population—and the resulting emphasis on upstream determinants of health and community engagement is unfamiliar territory for many healthcare systems. At the same time, for many community residents and community-based organizations, large medical institutions can feel complicated to engage with or unwelcoming. And for neighborhoods that have experienced chronic underinvestment in upstream determinants of health—such as social services, housing and education—funds made available by hospitals through their community health improvement activities may seem insufficient and unreliable. Despite these regulatory requirements, many hospitals, focused as they are on managing patients in their delivery system, have not yet invested significantly in community health improvement. Moreover, although there are important exceptions, community health improvement projects have often lacked a strong evidence base, and true health system-community collaborations are relatively uncommon. This article describes how a large academic medical center tapped into the expertise of its population health research faculty to partner with local community-based organizations to oversee the community health needs assessment and to design, implement and evaluate a set of geographically based community-engaged health improvement projects. The resulting program offers a paradigm for health system investment in area-wide population health improvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number88
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
StatePublished - Mar 31 2020


  • Community health improvement plan
  • Departments of population health
  • Health systems and community partnerships
  • Hospital community benefit
  • Hospitals addressing social determinants of health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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