“Healthcare is vital to all of us some of the time, but public health is vital to all of us all of the time.
” - C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General of the United States, 1982-1989
More than two decades after he made his midnight ride to warn the colonial militia that British soldiers were on the way, Paul Revere became the first public health officer in the United States. The year was 1799, and Boston, Massachusetts, established the first board of health and the first health department in the new nation and put Revere in charge.
More than 223 years later, there are nearly 3,000 county and local health departments in the United States, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). The NACCHO directory shows 118 county and city health departments in Texas, 77 in Pennsylvania, 62 in California, and 58 departments in New York. Eleven sparsely populated states such as South Dakota and Montana have 76 and 51 public health departments.
While the number of public health departments has grown since the days of Paul Revere, so too has their mission from traditional roles of tracking certain infectious diseases and implementing programs, to reducing health inequity by coalescing their efforts around population health and providing whole-person healthcare to vulnerable populations.
While public health departments have seen their missions expand, they are also facing incredible modern-day challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic not only posed a public health threat of its own, but also exposed serious shortcomings in our healthcare system.
According to research by the de Beaumont Foundation in 2021, more than half of public health employees say they have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and one in five say their mental health is fair or poor. More than 25% say they are thinking about leaving their jobs. That’s a significant increase in resignations for a sector that was projected to lose 16% of its workforce by 2019, according to McKinsey.
“The nation’s health depends on the well-being of our health workforce. Confronting the long-standing drivers of burnout among our health workers must be a top national priority. COVID-19 has been a uniquely traumatic experience for the health workforce and for their families, pushing them past their breaking point. ” - Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, 2021-present
The COVID-19 pandemic also brought new attention to health inequity in the United States. According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO), Hispanic or Latino and non-Hispanic Black people with COVID-19 had a hospitalization rate 2.8 times higher than non-Hispanic White people. But health inequity extends beyond COVID-19, the GAO says.
Changing role brings new challenges
Many public health departments operate with broad mandates to prevent or minimize disease. They help track and report community metrics on diseases such as HIV, COVID-19, tuberculosis, and other illnesses. But now, there are mandates to improve public health and reduce health inequities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why many public health agencies are looking at what private sector healthcare organizations are doing as they evaluate tools that can help them reach their goals.
Cloud-based platforms—such as the Innovaccer® Health Cloud—collect data from many sources, and aggregate it into a unified dataset. They present that information through an easy-to-use dashboard that helps public health officials provide better care for people in the communities they serve.
Innovaccer is ideally suited to help public health departments with an expanding lineup of solutions. Here are three prominent uses cases:
How unified records help public health and the public
Unified records provide public health departments with enhanced capabilities to manage the health and wellness of the communities they serve. For example, they may more easily create data subsets to stratify a population's risk factors. Those subsets can help them identify clients at higher risk—such as residents with uncontrolled diabetes, heart disease and heart failure, or people with HIV—so they can help them get the personalized attention and services they need.
Public health agencies have multiple goals, including tracking and preventing HIV or tuberculosis and connecting clients with maternal-child care. As the number of people served by public health departments continues to grow, staff members need new technology and tools to help them transform into a "whole-person" care model. They need to be able to see each client's needs from a 360-degree perspective to identify gaps in their care and to match them with appropriate services and programs. By unifying data from multiple sources and systems, including pharmacy, claims, electronic health records, government agencies, and community-based organizations, as well as SDoH, the Innovaccer Health Cloud empowers the public sector with the platform and tools it needs to manage whole-person care and increase health equity in communities.
So while we may not hear Paul Revere riding through town yelling, “The data is coming! The data is coming!” We hear a different message regarding public health. It’s a message that says unified data records are helping public health departments provide vulnerable clients with whole-person care to help reduce health inequity.
Innovaccer’s industry experts are attending and speaking at the 2022 NACCHO360 Conference, July 19–21, 2022, in Atlanta, GA, at the Hyatt Regency.