Category Archives: Public health system and finance
Ending Healthcare Waste, Improving Healthy Lives: Q&A with the L.A. Department of Public Health’s Jonathan Fielding
In a report released last year, the Institute of Medicine found that the United States wastes billions of dollars each year on such unnecessary spending as inefficiently delivered services, excess administrative costs, fraud and missed prevention opportunities. In response, a group of senior public health scholars at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, led by Jonathan Fielding, MD, MPH, a professor at the school and the director of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, published an article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on the improvements to population health the country might realize if only the wasted money was devoted instead to the social and environmental determinants of health. If the government could reap 45 percent of the wasted medical care costs, argues Fielding and his co-authors, and invested those resources in sectors such as education, jobs, healthier foods and transportation infrastructure, the health of millions could be markedly improved and society would see additional social benefits.
Jim Marks, Senior Vice President and Director, Health Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation echoed this approach at the recent American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting in Boston.
"We know lots about the cost of illness, but very little about the value of health,” he said.
Marks also said that focusing on health as the ultimate goal tends to eclipse some of the social determinants that can have enormous impact on people’s lives. “Most people don’t want good health as their outcome, they want a quality life. They want to travel, take care of grandkids, have a rich family and social life—you can only do that if you’re healthy,” said Marks. “It’s unrelated to good quality medical care. It’s related to education, safe neighborhoods, [and other social factors].”
According to Marks, improving public health isn’t about curing individual diseases or fixing specific injuries. Rather, it’s about everything; the diseases are the end result of the system we live in. And with all the data we have available, we know it’s a system that needs fixing, said Marks.
Marks’ thoughts came at an APHA panel Fielding moderated in a closing day session about the health impact of investment in major social and environmental policies and interventions; information gaps and how they can be filled; and how the discussion of health spending can be re-framed so that U.S. resources can be invested most productively.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Fielding about better uses for the wasted health care spending just before the start of the APHA meeting.
It’s no secret that public health department budgets have been shrinking in the past few years. In the face of the recession, public health professionals must seek new and diverse partnerships in order to achieve greater impact despite the lack of funding. The topic of one session at the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting held in Boston was just that—how to increase impact through strategic partnerships with unlikely partners.
“The need for austerity and efficiency opens up the conversation for collective impact,” said Joseph Schuchter of the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health. Partnerships can include a wide array of non-public health entities, including non-profit organizations, businesses and schools. The APHA panel discussed different approaches to successful partnerships that advance public health programs.
The Center for Health Leadership and Practice provides group leadership training for cross-sector teams that are working together to advance public health. “We may all be talking about the same thing, we’re just using different vocabulary and styles,” says VP of External Relations and Director Carmen Rita Nevarez. The Center provides existing partnerships with the tools and training needed to move forward in the same direction, while understanding that individual efforts may differ. More than 90 percent of program participants agree that the approach is effective in supporting intersectoral leadership development and most teams report regularly engaging other sectors as a result.
Networked and Entrepreneurial Approaches
Networked and entrepreneurial approaches to partnerships offer public health professionals with resources and allow them to reduce the negative externalities of the economy. The impact investment market constitutes an $8 billion industry that is eager to fund novel solutions to social problems. In order to succeed in these partnerships, the field of public health must work with social entrepreneurs and investors to highlight the potential return on investment for prevention programs and produce irrefutable outcomes.
The Community Health Improvement Partners (CHIP) serves as a backbone organization for a larger, cross-sector childhood obesity initiative. Cheryl Moder of CHIP shared her insights into the role of such an organization and how to successfully grow a diverse partnership. A backbone organization must serve as mission leaders by recruiting and retaining partners and support aligned activities so that they connect to one another. In addition, backbone organizations must navigate the challenges of larger partnerships—such as developing and retaining trust, encouraging equal partner recognition and shared measurement and evaluation—in a way that suits the needs of partners from different sectors.
>>NewPublicHealth was on the ground throughout the APHA conference speaking to public health leaders and presenters, hearing from attendees on the ground and providing updates from sessions, with a focus on how we can build a culture of health. Find the complete coverage here.
Since 2008, local health departments have cut nearly 44,000 jobs, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Although workforce losses and gains were roughly equal in 2012, 41 percent of local health departments nationwide experienced some type of reduction in workforce capacity and 48 percent of all local health departments reduced or eliminated services in at least one program area. Currently, local health departments reporting cuts still exceed the percentage of local health departments reporting budget increases.
California’s Napa County has dealt with its budget cuts by revamping its health department in order to continue to stay on mission.
“I think we've come out the other end of all this as a much stronger health department,” said Karen Smith, MD, MPH, Health Officer and Deputy Director for Public Health at Napa County Health and Human Services. “We moved from what I think of as an ‘old style’ [public health agency] to a department that focuses on our role as a convener/partner, providing expertise and leadership, and helping to craft policy.”
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Smith about the methods Napa Public Health used—and that other departments might follow—to adapt and improve in the face of budget cuts.
NewPublicHealth: How have budget changes impacted your department over the last five to ten years?
Karen Smith: Napa Public Health started out with a lean health division for the size of the county compared to some of our colleagues, and we remain lean. We have not really decreased services, however. We were able to get out ahead when we saw looming budget constraints.
Napa Public Health is part of the County’s Health and Human Service Agency, which includes social services, as well as mental health, drug and alcohol, child welfare services, comprehensive services for older adults and public health, and our administrative divisions. The previous director had a distinctive approach to budgeting: that the agency has a bottom-line budget and within that we have very detailed division budgets. So I have excruciatingly detailed budgets for every single program within public health, and that was crucial to our being able to respond to the budget shortfalls in creative ways that had limited impact on services.
A major theme at this year’s AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting was the need to become more aggressive on translating and disseminating health research. Just last month, the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University announced that is was becoming the first school at the university and one of the first of U.S. schools of public health to adopt an open access resolution. The resolution calls for faculty and other researchers at the school to post their papers in openly available online repositories such as Columbia’s Academic Commons, where content is available free to the public, or in another open access repository, such as the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed Central.
“A wider dissemination of research and information has been a number one priority of our faculty, who are motivated by the belief that scientific knowledge belongs to everyone,” said Linda P. Fried, MD, MP, the dean at Mailman. “It is in the interest of all of us to take every measure possible to improve and simplify the process of gaining access to our research findings,” Fried said.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Bhaven N. Sampat, PhD, Assistant Professor of health policy and management at Mailman and a lead faculty member on the open access endeavor.
NewPublicHealth: Why haven’t many journals been open access before and what is making researchers, particularly in the field of public health, interested in more widely disseminating their research?
NewPublicHealth is on the road this week at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland and the International Making Cities Livable Conference meeting in Portland, Oregon.
AcademyHealth is a key organization in the United States for the study of health services research—a discipline that looks at how people get access to health care, how much care costs and what happens to patients as a result of this care. The main goals of health services research are to identify the most effective ways to organize, manage, finance and deliver high-quality care; reduce medical errors; and improve patient safety.
An important focus of this week’s Annual Research Meeting is the translation and dissemination of research into health practice. The Public Health Systems Interest Group, AcademyHealth’s largest interest group with close to 3,000 members, is meeting this week as well and has a particular focus on translating and disseminating public health systems and services research to the public health practitioners who could benefit from practical findings.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Paul Erwin, MD, MPH, and head of the department of public health at the University of Tennessee School of Public Health, about the importance of having strong evidence available for public health practitioners.
NewPublicHealth: Why is the translation and dissemination of Public Health Services and Systems Research (PHSSR) so important?
Paul Erwin: Ultimately PHSSR is meant to go out into the practice community so that research can actually make a difference. I think historically that is part of what has set PHSSR apart from closely related research disciplines. PHSSR really is intended to help produce the kinds of evidence-based practices that are more effective with limited resources, and likely to move the needle on population health.
NewPublicHealth is speaking with directors of several health departments who recently were accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board. Eleven health departments received the credential so far. We recently spoke with Mary Selecky, director of the Washington State health department, one of the first two state health agencies receive national accreditation status. Ms. Selecky recently announced her plans to retire from the health department.
>>Also read our interview with Terry Cline, health commissioner of Oklahoma, which also was recently accredited by PHAB.
NPH: How do you think accreditation will improve delivery of public health services and care in Washington State? Now that the health department is accredited, do you feel as though you are leaving the department in even better shape than it was?
Mary Selecky: Accreditation is really a quality improvement tool, and the standards that have been set by the Public Health Accreditation Board force you to examine whether you have the right processes in place for continuous, sustained quality improvement. And if you have found that you are not quite up to par in an area, then the processes help you ask what you will do to improve your performance in that area? The process helps you increase your performance, your effectiveness, and your accountability.
Public health touches people every single day—everybody in the state, from the moment they get up until they go to bed at night and even while they’re sleeping. This credential shows us that we have effective programs and measures in place to meet the needs of our communities. Drinking water systems are a good example. We regulate 16,000 drinking water systems, and I have a lot of drinking water engineers who are out in communities checking on water systems. I have to know that they’ve got a common set of operating procedures to assure the public that we’re looking out for their interests and when they turn on their tap from a municipal water system, that the water’s safe to drink. You can only do that when you have some procedures in place and that goes for the engineers, for laboratories or programs to make sure they are operating well in the community. Accreditation touches every part of the department.
NPH: How will you be promoting and explaining accreditation to policymakers?
During opening remarks at this year’s Keeneland Conference, hosted by the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Systems and Services Research (PHSSR) based at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Professor Douglas Scutchfield, director of the Center, proudly announced that three of the first health departments to be accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) earlier this year were in Kentucky. Accreditation had its own track during the conference scientific sessions, including a presentation from Jessica Kronstadt, MPP, PHAB’s director of research and evaluation.
NewPublicHealth caught up with Kronstadt to talk about her presentation on some very early findings from an internal evaluation of the accreditation process.
>>Read more on national public health department accreditation.
NewPublicHealth: What information is PHAB seeking to gain from an evaluation of the accreditation process?
Jessica Kronstadt: Just as we’re asking health departments to engage in quality improvement, PHAB is very much committed to engaging in quality improvement of the accreditation program. So these evaluation efforts will really help us understand what is working well in our accreditation program, and what the experience was like from the perspective of the health departments and the site visitors. This evaluation will allow us to continue to improve the accreditation process.
The last session of the Keeneland Conference focused on translation and dissemination of public health systems and services research, with the critical goal of more efficient and effective delivery of public health services and improving population health. NewPublicHealth spoke with Ross Brownson, PhD, of the Prevention Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Brownson has received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to explore evidence-based decision making at local health departments.
NewPublicHealth: How far back does evidence-based public health go?
Ross Brownson: The formal underpinnings of evidence-based public health were developed in the late 1990s, so at least the formal literature has been around for probably about 15 years. Of course, research on effective interventions has been around for many more decades. The newer field of public health services and systems research is much newer, just within the last five years or so, and these different bodies of research are now converging.
The early research focused a lot on identifying evidence-based interventions. The newer research is more on the process of evidence-based public health—regardless of the intervention, how do you develop and implement an evidence-based health department?
We identified five domains that are really important:
- leadership of the agency;
- ability to develop, formalize and maintain good partnerships within the community;
- workforce training and development;
- focus on organizational climate and culture; and
- effective financial and budgeting processes.
The ultimate goal is to make the population healthier and we know that the way to improve the overall health of the public is largely through state and local governmental public health. To reach that ultimate goal you want to have the most effective health department possible and also make the most efficient use of resources. We’re always in a time of tight resources, but probably now more than ever. That calls on us to be as effective and efficient as we can be in the delivery of public health services.
NPH: How will you disseminate these best practices and this evidence base to state and local public health officials?
Today’s plenary speaker at the 2013 Keeneland Conference is William Roper, MD, MPH, dean of the school of medicine, vice chancellor for medical affairs and CEO of the UNC Health Care System at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Earlier in his career, Dr. Roper was senior vice president of Prudential HealthCare, president of the Prudential Center for Health Care Research, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administrator of the Health Care Financing System, the precursor to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Roper on his way to the Keeneland Conference about the drive to better use data, instead of anecdotes and personal beliefs, to drive decision-making.
NewPublicHealth: What were some of the early efforts you were involved in that set the stage for the field of public health services and systems research we know today?
Dr. Roper: I didn’t do this by myself; I did it with a lot of other people, but one of the critical early efforts was the publication of Medicare mortality information on all American hospitals beginning in 1986 and continuing for a number of years thereafter. Another was creation of the Agency for Healthcare Policy and Research in 1989, which has since been renamed the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Another was the launching of the Prevention Effectiveness Initiative at CDC in the early 90s. And then subsequently, work that I’ve done at the University of North Carolina, first at the School of Public Health and then at the School of Medicine using the tools of health services research broadly in health care and in public health.
NPH: What are some of the fruits of those efforts?
Today, New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, released the 2013-17 Prevention Agenda: New York State’s Health Improvement Plan—a statewide, five-year plan to improve the health and quality of life for everyone who lives in New York State. The plan is a blueprint for local community action to improve health and address health disparities, and is the result of a collaboration with 140 organizations, including hospitals, local health departments, health providers, health plans, employers and schools that identified key priorities.
Dr. Shah, the architect behind today’s prevention agenda, was confirmed as New York State’s youngest Commissioner of Health two years ago. The state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, had three critical goals: reduce the state’s annual Medicaid growth rate of 13 percent, increase access to care and improve health care outcomes.
Shah, a former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Physician Faculty Scholar and Clinical Scholar, has already made important inroads in all three goals and the prevention agenda builds on that. NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Shah about prevention efforts already underway in the state, and what it takes to partner health and health care to achieve needed changes in population health.
NewPublicHealth: How does improving the social determinants of health help you achieve your goals in New York State?
Dr. Shah: New York’s Medicaid program covers 40 percent of the health care dollars spent in the state. We were growing at an unsustainable rate, and we needed a rapid, but effective solution. So, we engaged the health care community, including advocates, physician representatives, the legislature, unions, management, and launched a process that enables continuous, incremental, but real change toward the Triple Aim—improved individual health care, improved population health and lower costs.
Collectively, these efforts resulted in a $4 billion savings last year in the State’s Medicaid program, increased the Medicaid rolls by 154,000 people, and resulted in demonstrable improvements in quality throughout the system.
NPH: What opportunities do you see for public health and health care to work together in New York State?