Improving Public Health Performance

RWJF is helping local and state public health leaders to develop new tools to measure and improve performance. As part of this goal, the team is working with partners in public health to explore public health agency accreditation as a possible strategy to improve and enhance the capacity of state and local public health agencies.

A December 2004 meeting sponsored by the Foundation, together with the Institute of Medicine, examined the issue in depth. To stimulate the meeting's discussion, the Foundation commissioned two papers on this topic.

"Exploring Public Health Experience with Standards and Accreditation," reviews the positions that the major public health organizations have taken on accreditation and comparable programs and also included a review of current state-level accreditation programs.

"Can Accreditation Work in Public Health? Lessons from Other Service Industries" reviews the literature on the experiences and outcomes of existing accreditation programs in health and social service industries in order to derive implications about the potential benefits and costs of accreditation for public health agencies.

A survey of 50 local, state and federal public health leaders was also conducted prior to the December 2004 meeting. The survey was intended to gather information on the rationale, concerns, unintended consequences, financing streams and potential accrediting organizations for a governmental public health accreditation system.

The following resources were made available as a result of this meeting:

  • An operational definition of a public health agency, developed by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) with RWJF funding, and discussed at the meeting.
  • Breakout session summary: Guiding Principles of an Accreditation System

As a result of this meeting, the participants reached a consensus to establish a national steering committee to explore the desirability and feasibility of a voluntary national accreditation system.