Most healthcare professionals have traditionally been committed to the individual patient. This is good, and should not change (in some ways, the focus on the individual should be strengthened, as described here). However, physicians should also have a responsibility to the broader community to maintain and improve population health.

This means there needs to be a shift to a situation where healthcare services take into account not only the patients already referred to a healthcare service, but also those people within the broader population who are not yet in contact with the healthcare service, but would benefit from it.

The aim of population healthcare is to maximise value and equity by focusing on populations defined by a common symptom, condition or characteristic – e.g. breathlessness, arthritis, or multiple morbidity. The focus should not be on institutions, specialties, or technologies.

In other words: achieving population healthcare is the outcome of the necessary shift towards systems thinking within healthcare.

In each clinical team at least one healthcare professional needs to move from a principal focus on a referred population to a broader, population-wide view.

This will be necessary to meet the new responsibilities of the 21st century healthcare professional – responsibilities for productivity, efficiency, value, sustainability, and equity.