Doctors Ask for Improvements to Public Health System

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NEW ORLEANS—A call for an improved public health infrastructure that works collaboratively with physicians in order to ensure the public’s safety and health was made last week by the American College of Physicians (ACP). The action was highlighted by the release of a new policy paper, "Strengthening the Public Health Infrastructure," at Internal Medicine 2012, ACP’s annual scientific meeting in New Orleans.

“This paper points out that strengthening the public health infrastructure is imperative to ensure that the appropriate healthcare services are available to meet the population’s health care needs and to respond to public health emergencies," said Virginia L. Hood, MBBS, MPH, MACP, president of ACP. “A strong public health infrastructure provides the capacity to prepare for and respond to both acute and chronic threats to the nation’s health, yet ill-advised budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels pose a grave threat to the health of U.S. residents."

ACP’s paper makes the case for adequate investments in public health, which is the practice of preventing diseases and promoting good health within groups of people. Public health depends on an underlying foundation, or infrastructure, to support the planning, delivery, and evaluation of public health activities and practices. Public health works to protect and improve the health of communities through education, policy development, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research. It concentrates on the health of the population, rather than care of the individual patient, although these are becoming more intertwined as non-communicable diseases are becoming a priority focus for both population and patient-directed care.

The paper calls for adequate funding for the public health infrastructure, but recognizes that the tight budget environment requires that funding be prioritized. It makes the case that the consequences of underfunding essential and effective programs that prevent diseases and promote good health within groups of people would be an unwise, and ultimately very costly, use of limited resources. The paper recommends that funding priority be based on assessment of which programs have demonstrated effectiveness in achieving key public health objectives.

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