‘UH Population Health’ initiative seeks to level healthcare access
AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger.

The University of Houston has launched UH Population Health, a first-of-its-kind initiative to advance health equity in Houston, the state of Texas and beyond through a holistic approach to health and well-being.  

Unlike any other university in the country, UH is taking a multifaceted, University-wide approach to reduce health disparities and health care costs by addressing the full range of factors that affect health, such as access to healthy food, healthy behaviors, the environment, the health care system and other key factors.  

“I am so proud that the University of Houston has accepted the challenge to lead a national effort to improve health patterns and trends for everyone,” said Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston. “This is a bold step forward for our university, for our students and faculty and for the various communities we serve and impact through our work.”

Dr. Bettina Beech, UH’s chief population health officer, has been charged with leading this initiative.

“We recognize that the United States spends more on healthcare than other wealthy nations, but it has the worst health outcomes,” said Beech, who is also a clinical professor of population health in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences at the UH College of Medicine.

“We recognize that the U.S. has outstanding healthcare, but unequal access to those very systems of care. We also recognize that what makes us healthy is beyond healthcare, yet we under-emphasize those factors such as the environment, education, income and the context in which health behaviors occur. So, UH Population Health joins other long-standing initiatives at the university to address these issues through educational research and collaborative efforts to improve the health of populations.”

To Beech’s point, 70% of health outcomes are determined by those factors she mentioned, factors other than health care and genetics. But Beech is confident that UH is up to the task, in large part because of the current work of various UH initiatives via the school’s 16 colleges.

“Our College of Nursing recently launched a nurse-operated clinic for populations who are unhoused. The new College of Medicine has a community mission to expand primary care and it’s delivered through underrepresented groups of future physicians,” shared Beech.

“It’s very exciting to have an initiative that’s not a program, that’s not a center, that’s not an Institute, but truly infused throughout all units with the attention to not build a standalone, but to align with internal and external partners to collectively tackle issues and positively impact population health in ways that we could not accomplish alone,” added Beech.

“Our goal is for UH undergraduate students to gain experience in population health in the way it aligns with their major, so that our graduates carry this knowledge into the workforce and become agents of change,” said Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. 

The UH Population Health external advisory committee is a who’s who of nationally recognized health experts: Dr. Roy Beveridge, former chief medical officer at Humana; Sally Shumaker, professor and principal investigator of the Women’s Health Initiative at Wake Forest University; Dr. Keith Norris, professor and executive vice chair of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UCLA; and, Dr. Tamara Baer, McKinsey & Company, Boston Children’s Hospital. 

For more information about UH Population Health please see the newly launched website at www.uh.edu/population-health.