Column: Accountability – Public Health

This series titled “Column: Healthcare Accountability” is sponsored content from our partners at Axene Health Partners.  AHP offers highly specialized health care actuarial and consulting services across a number of states.  We have curated this content because we think it adds value to the work our readers are engaged in.  As always, we welcome your feedback on this series.

In the debate around healthcare reform or in conversations about what’s wrong with the U.S. healthcare system, public health rarely earns a mention. Insurance companies, hospital systems, providers, pharmaceutical companies, government, and individuals all seem to contribute to the problem in one way or another – where does public health fit in? And really, what does “public health” even mean and what types of services does it span?

This article will explain the broad set of roles and responsibilities of public health in general – how it touches you and me, and how it influences the state of health in our country. This article will also take a closer look at public health operations – how it is funded, who determines how money is spent, and what mechanisms hold public health accountable to improve population health.


Roles, Responsibilities, and Impacts of Public Health

Defining Public Health

Before we can begin to understand the complicated web of funding and determination of priorities of public health, we need to have a grasp of both its goals and its span of services. Public health fundamentally promotes and protects the health of people and their communities. While most of the U.S. healthcare system is devoted to treating people who are already sick, public health focuses on
keeping people healthy. The three primary ways in which public health systems influence our lives are (1) through the development of community programs, (2) through advocating for health- and safety promoting policies, and (3) through dissemination of evidence-based information.

Span of Services

When we think about our health, we oft en focus on diet and exercise alone, and overlook other significant influences. There are many social and environmental factors that have a big impact on both our health and our ability to make healthy choices. Some of these factors include: income, education, race, family/support networks, working conditions, living conditions, community safety, and stress levels. Public health organizations must consider and influence all of these elements. A few examples of the broad array of public health activities include:

• Protecting communities from the spread of infectious disease through vaccinations, educat on, and
medical research/advancements
• Creating and monitoring standards around environmental contaminants (lead exposure, safe
drinking water, air pollution, etc.)
• Educating the public on harmful effects of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use and developing support
programs for those struggling with substance abuse
• Advocating for safe communities by researching and lobbying for programs and policies that reduce
gun violence and create safe infrastructure for walking/bicycling (to work, to school)
• Promoting policies that make healthy choices accessible and affordable (e.g., school lunch programs)

Continue reading the column here