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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Essential Public Health Functions

By Donald L. Noah, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, Associate Professor, Public Health, College of Veterinary Medicine, Midwestern University ; Stephanie R. Ostrowski, DVM, MPVM, DACVPM, Department of Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University

Under the auspices of DHHS, the USPHS developed (and adopted in 1994) the following ten essential public health functions to assist state and local health agencies achieve their mission of promoting physical and mental health and preventing disease, injury, and disability.

1) Monitor health status to identify community health problems. A generally accepted definition of public health surveillance is “the ongoing systematic collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of outcome-specific data essential to the planning, implementation, and evaluation of public health practice.” Without this type of activity over time, baseline data cannot be analyzed for adverse events and trends.

2) Diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community. As an adjunct to surveillance, public health agencies conduct targeted screening programs and/or surveys to detect problems and hazards in the community. When detected, they are investigated to determine their magnitude, and results are used to inform public education and prevention efforts.

3) Inform, educate, and empower people about health issues. Once priorities have been established through surveillance, detection, and investigation, educational activities that promote improved health should be disseminated.

4) Mobilize community partnerships to identify and solve health problems. Public health agencies at all levels can mobilize community partnerships to solve health problems. Of particular importance is identification of potential stakeholders who can contribute to or benefit from public health interventions.

5) Develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts. Policies and laws can effectively modify human behavior and reduce negative health outcomes. Examples include limiting access to high-calorie beverages in school-age children and “dram shop liability” to discourage overconsumption of alcoholic beverages in public establishments.

6) Enforce laws and regulations that protect health and ensure safety. The existence of policies and laws is not enough; compliance must be enforced to ensure the overall safety and health of the community. Ongoing assessment and education efforts are undertaken to ensure that these policies and laws remain relevant and known to the public.

7) Link people to needed personal health services and assure the provision of health care when otherwise unavailable. Having access to care when it is needed is important in helping individuals prevent and avoid unfavorable health outcomes and medical costs. Components of these efforts are undertaken at the local, state, and federal levels to provide a coordinated system of health care.

8) Assure a competent public health and personal health care workforce. Competent health care workers provide care more effectively and efficiently than those less competent. This is facilitated by licensing and credentialing processes, incorporating core public health competencies into personnel systems, and adopting continual quality improvement opportunities for public health workforce members.

9) Evaluate effectiveness, accessibility, and quality of personal and population-based health services. Given scarce resources, it is imperative to assess whether programs and policies achieve intended outcomes. Cost-effectiveness analyses have been proposed as one strategy to inform policymakers on how best to allocate health care resources.

10) Support/sponsor research for new insights and innovative solutions to health problems. From the evidence-based results of coordinated research programs, health and health care problems can be better understood and improved over time.