Gearing Up for Population Health: Expanding Our Horizons with a Social Ecological Model

December 1, 2014

// By Susan Dubuque //

Susan DubuqueLast year, Strategic Health Care Marketing published a series of three articles on Racing to Wellness. This year, we delve further into the evolution of our profession in a rapidly changing environment. As we move away from conventional promotions intended to drive volumes, we will explore the reinvention of marketing and communications with a different objective—to improve health and support wellness as we prepare for the advent of population health management. See Part 1 of this series, on lessons learned from public health.

As health care marketers and communicators we strive to influence consumer attitudes and actions. For years, our objectives have been to enhance our health care organizations’ brands, increase preference, and encourage utilization of our services and offerings.

Those important goals have not gone away. But it is imperative that we now begin to layer those strategic initiatives with yet another set of desired outcomes. We want consumers—the populations we serve—to adopt healthier behaviors and lifestyles. This is no small feat. Let’s face it: We’re talking about modifying mindsets and habits developed over many years, and reinforced through generations, and trying to turn them upside down.

But before we can change a behavior, we first need to understand it. And to do so, we will look to our “cousin discipline”—public health. There are many frameworks and theories that are employed in health promotion and behavioral change, but one of the most foundational is called the social ecological model (SEM). The social ecological model is grounded in the understanding that human beliefs, attitudes and behaviors don’t occur in a vacuum. We are all deeply affected by those around us and the environments in which we live. These factors that impact our thinking and actions are referred to as determinants. SEM organizes these determinants into multiple levels of influence.

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