Working Together to Improve Health: Georges Benjamin Q&A

    • October 26, 2012

More than 13,000 public health practitioners, advocates, researchers and leaders will convene in San Francisco, Calif. for the 2012 American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting. Inspired by the meeting, we invited APHA’s executive director, Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP, and other national thought leaders to join us for an online conversation around the future of health and health care—including the the critical role of working across sectors to improve health.

In a recent APHA Annual Meeting Blog post, you said that “swapping best practices and learning from each other's experiences is so critical in these very uncertain times.” Do you have a favorite example of an initiative of this nature that is improving population health?

The partnership I think is the neatest one we have right now is the one around the Public Health Accreditation Board. This was an idea that was started three or four years ago where we said public health really needs to find a way to really promote the value and quality of what we do, and we thought public health accreditation might be the ticket. Many other members of the public health community got together to think about how best to do that. There was a lot of skepticism at first, but we were able to do a good analysis that revealed there would be strong benefits, and voilà we are here actually looking at our best ways we can accredit health departments in the United States. It has turned out to be a really interesting collaboration.

[Voluntary national public health department launched last Fall. The Public Health Accreditation Board was created to serve as the national public health accrediting body, and is jointly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The development of public health accreditation has involved public health leaders and practitioners from the national, tribal, state, and local levels.]

How would you characterize the importance of cross-sector partnership to improving the nation’s health?

These are challenging times for all of us, and they are challenging because of real resource limitations and a very complex environment and difficult politics. We are short of money, and a lot of stuff is just moving very quickly. The benefit of partnership is being able to pull together your best minds, share resources, take an effort that everybody thinks is important, and focus it. That makes a big difference in how we improve and promote the public’s health. None of our organizations, even APHA, are big enough to do it all by ourselves. But when we do it together, the public’s health gets improved dramatically.

What key ingredients do all successful efforts have in common? What does it take to do it right?

It’s visionary leadership and it’s seeing a future, and then figuring out ways to craft that future and lead people towards it. We have lots of very strong leaders and we have lots of people with strong ideas, but true visionary leadership is uncommon. When you get someone with a real vision who can also lead people—then we can really make great progress.