Policy for Public Health

views updated


The Institute of Medicine defines public health as "what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy" (1988,p. 1). It further notes that public health is more comprehensive than the specific activities of any particular agency, organization, or sector. Public health encompasses a wide range of organized community efforts to prevent disease and promote health, and it often involves private organizations and individuals, working on their own or in partnership with the public sector. Policies for public health consist of planned activities to address health problems as they are identified and defined by a community. Thus, public health activities, including policy development, require organized community efforts as well as public involvement.

Public health practitioners typically engage in organized, interdisciplinary efforts that address the physical, mental, and environmental health concerns of communities. As defined by the Institute of Medicine, three basic public health activities are essential to the practice of public health:(1) assessing and monitoring of population and community health problems and priorities; (2) assuring that all populations have access to appropriate and cost-effective care, including health-promotion and disease-prevention services; and (3) formulating policies to resolve local, state, and national health problems in conjunction with community and government decision makers.

A public health policy is a plan or a course of action intended to influence decisions or actions made by community leaders or by private or public policy makers. Ultimately, a public health policy is intended to positively influence the health and health behavior of individuals in the population. Such policy is established through public processes involving individuals and organizations, including state and local boards of health, elected officials, community groups, public health professionals, health care providers, and private citizens. At all levels, public health policies are developed, implemented, and evaluated in a way that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative scientific information, as well as the community values that reflect the demographic, geographic, and cultural diversity of an area, region, and state.

Evaluation of public health policies is important to determine their effectiveness in achieving desired outcomes. In states where public health improvement activities are underway, two key concerns emerge in conducting an evaluation of current and planned public health policies: first, having access to timely and accurate data relevant to specific health issues, and second, establishing sound methods to meaningfully involve and inform communities, interested stakeholders, groups, and individuals most affected by the policies. The processes used to develop national health targets for the United States Public Health Service's Healthy People series, which began in 1979 and has continued into 2010, exemplifies public health policy development in action (e.g., examining progress and experience from an expanded scientific base and relying on a broad collaboration among government, voluntary and professional organizations, businesses, and individuals.)

Patricia G. Felten

(see also: Community Health; Health; Health Promotion and Education; Philosophical Basis for Public Health; Politics of Public Health )


California Center for Health Improvement. Health Policy Coach. Available at http://www.healthpolicycoach.org.

California Coalition for the Future of Public Health (1990). The New Public Health: 1990. A Statewide Conference on the Future of Public Health in California, April 2527, 1990. Berkeley, CA: Author.

Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences (1988). The Future of Public Health. Washington, DC: Author.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (1997). Developing Objectives for Healthy People 2010. Washington, DC: Author.

Washington Department of Health (1994). Public Health Improvement Plan: A Progress Report. Executive Summary. Olympia, WA: Author.

About this article

Policy for Public Health

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article