Public health has been an important concern throughout human history. Although today we are much better off overall than we were during the Middle Ages or even the Victorian era, there are always new threats to public health that can devastate communities and compromise the well-being of individuals from all walks of life. From the COVID-19 pandemic to malnutrition and unsafe water, infectious diseases and health disparities that affect people all over the world are still major problems.
The most vulnerable and underserved communities need the most help from public health initiatives. To improve the lives of people in the United States and all over the world, we need to make investments in technology and personnel to enhance public health advocacy.
What is Public Health Advocacy?
Public health advocacy is the practice of educating and influencing key decision-makers and the general population about public health issues and potential solutions. Public health advocates are dedicated to reducing health disparities in underserved communities by educating, shaping public policy, and bringing awareness of these issues to the public.
Leveraging Public Health Technology
Technology has an important role in public health advocacy. It can help researchers and advocates collect data about the health of specific populations, provide options for distributing information, and allows for better evaluation methods. Let’s take a look at some of the specific ways technology can be used to enhance public health advocacy.
Online Education and Awareness
As access to the internet has become much more widespread in recent years, free and accessible public health resources are easier than ever to distribute and maintain. Advocacy groups and government agencies can post resources on their websites to educate the public and build awareness of specific public health issues.
Social media has become an important channel for education and for building public support. As it’s easy for people to share information on these platforms, it’s an effective method of distributing information, especially time-sensitive information that’s critical to public health. Some agencies and organizations have also used apps to help improve engagement and awareness.
Digital platforms also have the benefit of being easier and cheaper to update. As researchers and advocacy groups collect new information on different public health issues, it’s easy to update a website or to share a social media post. Print educational materials still have their place, but migrating the majority of public health education online saves money and resources while allowing for more accurate, even real-time information to be shared.
While the term “surveillance” has a sinister connotation, surveillance systems are absolutely critical for improving public health. These systems might include technology to collect and analyze mandatory reporting from healthcare facilities, lab results, behavioral trends relating to health, and much more. During an infectious disease outbreak, these systems are also used to track the spread of an illness and help minimize their impact on vulnerable populations.
Electronic Health Records (EHR)
To understand specific public health issues, analysts need access to high-quality data. Manually collecting health data is a laborious, difficult, and sometimes unreliable method. With the switch to electronic health records (EHR) in the United States, however, data can be collected and anonymized efficiently, allowing researchers to get a more accurate and timely picture of a given community’s health concerns.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
Another important technology that is being deployed in public health, geographic information systems (GIS) helps experts map, manage, and analyze data. GIS systems can help public health officials and advocates understand health trends for entire regions and provide valuable insights.
The Importance of Trained Public Health Personnel
In addition to the technology that’s critical for effective public health advocacy, highly trained and knowledgeable public health experts are needed to design and execute public health surveys, educate the public, influence politicians, and come up with potential solutions to public health issues such as health disparities.
Some key roles within the public health advocacy workforce include:
- Epidemiologists— Researchers who study diseases within populations.
- Public Health Analysts— Professionals who take public health data and identify trends and other insights.
- Public Health Educators— Trained educators whose role is to share public health information with affected communities.
- Public Policy Analysts— Professionals who help to identify opportunities and gaps in public policy relevant to public health.
- Public Health Lawyers— Legal experts who specialize in advising public health officials and advocates.
People who work in the field of public health advocacy are compassionate, dedicated, and hard-working. Their goal is to help build stronger communities and reduce injustices caused by health disparities.
The public health workforce is made up of a combination of skilled professionals— some who can collect and analyze data, some who are skilled in working directly with the public, and some who understand the intricacies of the law and how it affects public health.
Attracting people to these careers is an ongoing priority. There are many settings that require public health professionals, including local and federal government agencies, global organizations, nonprofits, universities, and healthcare organizations. Even some private companies hire public health professionals for their commercial goals. Without a skilled workforce in analysis and advocacy, public health data is of limited use.
Public Health Advocacy Empowers Vulnerable Communities
With the number of tools available to advance the field of public health advocacy, the only thing lacking is more funding and support for these programs. Advocacy programs can quickly become very expensive, and influencing politicians to pay for them can be an uphill battle.
As the wealth gap between rich and poor Americans widens, more and more people will be personally affected by health disparities. By investing in public health advocacy now, through a highly trained workforce and powerful technology tools, we can lift up and empower vulnerable communities for a better, healthier, and more equitable future.