HHS: Public health efforts need better funding, data sharing

Strong leadership, flexible funding, and relevant data and analytics will be necessary to improve public health in the U.S., according to a new report touting the Department of Health and Human Services’ Public Health 3.0 initiative.

The paper (.pdf), published by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) this week, notes that several factors have contributed to increased stress on local public health agencies, including funding reductions, changes resulting from the Affordable Care Act, and racial, ethnic and geographic disparities.

“Today, a person’s ZIP code is a stronger determinant of health than their genetic code,” Acting Assistant Secretary for Health Karen DeSalvo says in a letter accompanying the report. “In a nation as wealthy as the United States, it is unconscionable that so many people die prematurely from preventable diseases; even worse are the health disparities that continue to grow in many communities.”

To that end, OASH makes five recommendations:

  1. More focused leadership: OASH notes that current public health leaders must strive to work in collaboration with all relevant partners to work on “upstream” issues.
  2. Better collaborations: Public health departments must engage public and private sector stakeholders, OASH says, in efforts that focus on governance, services and collective action.
  3. Enhanced Public Health Accreditation Board criteria to ensure that every person in the U.S. is served by nationally accredited health departments.
  4. Improved use and access to data: While progress has been made regarding national- and state-level survey infrastructure and electronic health record adoption, critical information often is not available when and where stakeholders need it most; that “time lag” cannot continue, OASH says. In addition, it notes that “clear metrics to document success in public health practice should be developed in order to guide, focus and assess the impact of prevention initiatives.”
  5. Modified funding: Encourage “blending” of funds from various sources, OASH says, as well as reinvestment of generated revenue. “Public health and social services have been immensely underfunded,” the report notes.

“High-quality healthcare is essential for treatment of individual health conditions, but it is not the only tool at our disposal,” DeSalvo says in her letter. “In order to solve the fundamental challenges of population health, we must address the full range of factors that influence a person’s overall health and well-being. From education to safe environments, housing to transportation, economic development to access to health foods--the social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, live, work and age.”