Defining Health Within Healthcare Policies

Subject: Healthcare Research
Pages: 4
Words: 1100
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: Master

Health policies and related procedures are targeted at establishing standardization in the common operational activities of providers. Through the decades working with policies and procedures, it has become increasingly apparent that they are imperative for providing clarity when dealing with problems and activities that are imperative for reaching high levels of safety, regulatory requirements, and legal liabilities. Healthcare policies must consider the operational definitions of health in order to facilitate effective responses to rising healthcare problems (McLaughlin & McLaughlin, 2018). According to the Constitution of the World Health Organization (2020), health is a state of “complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (para. 2). The commitment to reaching the high expectations of health is the objective of healthcare policies that aim to establish the multi-dimensional well-being of the population.

The definition of health is important for healthcare policies because it encompasses not only the biomedical component of health but also includes political, social, interpersonal, and biological factors. Because the definition covers multiple aspects that contribute to populations’ health, policies also include the variety of characteristics that enable the population to stay healthy. By having a clear definition of health, it is possible to develop explicit health policies that will establish a future vision that will enable the creation of targets and points of reference for both short and long-term goals. The policies that consider the definition of health and the contributing factors that facilitate its achievement prioritize the expected roles of different stakeholders while also building consensus to inform decision-makers and the general population.

Defining health as a system that encompasses a broad range of components increases the opportunities of policymakers to identify the problems that should be resolved as soon as possible. Besides, the characteristics of health influence the general population directly, which means that the latter can be involved in the decision-making and collaboration associated with the development of healthcare policies. Furthermore, governments have the responsibility to establish health for their population through the development of policies that provide adequate measures of health and social life. The policies are concerned with positively influencing the development of practices and institutions that would help develop health, reduce poverty, as well as help populations achieve their personal health goals. Specifically, health policies aim to build supportive environments across governments to increase investment in health and ensure that it is prioritized within the general social and economic plans.

Defining Target Populations within Health Policies

A target population is an informal term that is used to denote a group or a set of elements about which more information should be gathered, or such that will be affected by an intervention. Usually, a target population shares similar characteristics and represents an intended audience of healthcare policy. Defining a target population for a healthcare policy is associated with describing the settings and the features of groups that would be affected by them. This should be the first stage in planning population-based healthcare policies because the latter should be designed to meet the healthcare needs and challenges of the defined target population. The population-based approach considers several perspectives that help reach the established objectives of health and well-being improvement. These perspectives include the community perspective, the perspective of clinical epidemiology that is based on population-related data, evidence-based practices, the focus on effective outcomes, as well as the emphasis of primary prevention of adverse health conditions (Shahzad et al., 2019). Overall, healthcare policies that have target populations in mind during their implementation are aimed at promoting positive health outcomes that would shape the overall health of communities.

An approach toward healthcare policies that considers target populations goes far beyond the models of traditional biomedicine and considers the essential role of cross-sectoral collaboration for promoting the general health and wellness of communities influenced by adverse health challenges (Shahzad et al., 2019). Through the establishment of partnerships across public health and primary care sectors, healthcare stakeholders have the capacity to address both local and regional needs of populations to improve health outcomes. Increasingly, global healthcare systems are faced with persistent issues that lead to poor levels of performance and the expanding disparities in care. The population-based approach toward health policies is linked to addressing the rising burden of illnesses attributable to widespread chronic conditions and the increasing complexity and costs of healthcare. Defining target populations will help to shift from traditional biomedical models of healthcare to those that prioritize general wellness.

The Impact of Societal Characteristics on Policy Development

Societal influences include socioeconomic status, education, physical environments, the availability of social support networks, and access to healthcare. When identifying and developing policy processes, it is imperative to consider societal influences because they shape the overall well-being of populations. Beyond health care systems, social initiatives aim to develop policies and practices in non-health sectors in ways that can promote health equity among populations (Saunders, Barr, McHale, & Hamelmann, 2017). For example, among vulnerable populations with low socioeconomic status, health outcomes will be limited due to the decreased access to healthcare services or the inability to finance them. To address this challenge, social policies that enhance financial support, increase employment, and facilitate education among vulnerable individuals are necessary. Within healthcare policy development, effective governance for social determinants of health enables the monitoring and measurement of facilitating informed decision-making, evaluating the implementation of relevant processes, and building accountability (Andermann, 2016). Inequities that exist within social determinants of health should be monitored to ensure that stakeholders institutionalize solutions that respond to specific social challenges.

Comparing CDC and WHO Definitions of Health

The definition of health given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) partially aligns with that provided by the World Health Organization. CDC defines public health as both science and art associated with preventing disease, increasing life expectancy, and promoting overall health with the help of organized efforts and informed choices made by society, individuals, public and private groups, as well as organizations. The definition given by the CDC also implies the implementation of a multi-dimensional range of initiatives that cover different spheres of life of a population. While WHO’s definition is broader compared to that of CDC, the overall approach to policy shaping and implementation is similar.

The policies implemented by CDC are based on high-value prevention of adverse health outcomes, which means that the organization’s approach is population-based. In addition, CDC aims to increase collaboration between public health, health care, and other sectors. However, the key focus of the CDC is disease prevention, while WHO’s definition of health goes beyond biomedical factors and includes social, economic, educational, and other characteristics.


Andermann, A., & CLEAR Collaboration (2016). Taking action on the social determinants of health in clinical practice: A framework for health professionals. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 188(17-18), 474-483.

McLaughlin, C., & McLaughlin, C. (2018). Health policy analysis: An interdisciplinary approach. Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Saunders, M., Barr, B., McHale, P., & Hamelmann, C. (2017). Key policies for addressing the social determinants of health and health inequities. WHO Regional Office for Europe.

Shahzad, M., Upshur, R., Donnelly, P., Bharmal, A., Wei, X., Feng, P., & Brown, A. (2019). A population-based approach to integrated healthcare delivery: A scoping review of clinical care and public health collaboration. BMC Public Health, 19, pp. 708.

World Health Organization. (2010). Constitution. Web.