Public Health: The Umpire

Jun 24, 2011, 5:00 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

At the American Public Health Association’s Midyear Meeting in Chicago today, Julie Eckstein of the Center for Health Transformation likened public health to an umpire: “No one knows his name or really what he does unless there’s a crisis in the game,” said Eckstein. “With public health it’s much the same -- the public health workforce is often below the radar unless there’s a crisis such as Hurricane Katrina.”

Ecsktein spoke as part of a panel on improving population health. She pointed out that public health funding is often a target because legislators don’t always know the scope of public health department activities or how funding now can avert health crises in the future. Eckstein’s co-panelists, Oliver Fein, M.D., of Cornell University, and John McDonough, D.P.H, M.P.A., director of the Center for Public Health Leadership at Harvard, focused on the current debate over health reform. Eckstein looked broader to a vision of how public health can “get us to better population health.”

When it comes to health, said Eckstein, “financing” often gets the lion’s share of the discussion--when we also need to be talking about effective and efficient delivery of care among other goals:

  • Insurance coverage
  • Grants to states and communities—with the opportunity to let those on the ground choose how they spend the money
  • Ending silos, and finding how all the pieces involved in health from electronic health records to obesity fit together
  • Getting players, including patients, parents, hospitals, providers, legislators to come together as partners
  • Making sure that health education includes best practices

“If we tackle these issues, we’ll be able to improve population health like never before,” Eckstein said.

Weigh In: How is your community publicizing the important work of public health departments?

Read the APHA Midyear Meeting Blog here.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.