Wednesday Jun 26, 2013

Help Other Communities by Sharing Your Public Health Success Stories

It has been 100 years since the first school of public health was founded in this country. And it has been nearly 50 years since the Folsom Report called for a new approach to providing health services based on a "community of solution."

Unfortunately, primary care and public health still operate in isolation more often than not. As an IOM report pointed out last year, "primary care focuses on providing medical services to individual patients with immediate health needs," while "public health focuses on offering a broad array of services across communities and populations."

Simply by reporting notifiable diseases we encounter in our offices, primary care physicians can prevent the spread of disease and contain potentially huge problems, such as probable food poisoning from a local restaurant. But surely there should be more coordination and communication. Couldn't working together with state and local public health departments lead to lower costs, better outcomes and healthier communities?

AAFP News Now reported earlier this year on the development of a new Web-based resource aimed at providing physicians and public health officials with tools and strategies to work together on population health. The Practical Playbook for Integrating Public Health and Primary Care will, among other things, analyze programs that successfully integrate public health and primary care and determine the common elements that help them succeed.

To that end, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) is compiling examples of such successes for analysis. More than three dozen organizations -- including state health departments, hospitals, nonprofit organizations and others -- already have told their stories about immunizations, cancer screening programs, asthma education, smoking cessation and more.

For example, the Washington State Department of Health is working with primary care clinics and local public health organizations in four counties, providing training, technical assistance and coaching to practices transitioning to the patient-centered medical home model. The project is expected to add new communities every six months and, eventually will be statewide.

Thus far, many of the stories submitted to ASTHO involve large, statewide and even national programs. What seems to be missing is something at the core of primary care in our local communities -- us.

Family physicians already are involved in these types of integrated programs. But we need to share the success stories from our communities so we can learn from them and possibly even replicate them elsewhere.

I'm not asking you to write a journal article. This is fast and easy. Most of the questions are multiple-choice. The bottom line is that taking 10 minutes to tell your story could help patients and your colleagues in another community benefit from your experience.

As family physicians, we participate in public health initiatives every day, and we need to be part of the broader integration of primary care and public health. With our compelling stories, we will be able to have a seat at the table and emphasize the resources we need for our patients.

Rebecca Jaffe, M.D.is a member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

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