Public Health Policy, Politics, and Self-Interest

by Rick Austin June 18, 2013 03:52 PM

As a marketing person, I just have to say, these people need a new name and a catchy acronym.

The National Coordinating Center for Public Health Systems and Services Research (PHSSR) distributes a monthly online newsletter, PHSSR Inside Track. Their June issue leads with a thoughtful discussion by Shoshanna Sofaer about the role of policymaking in effective public health practice.

Her focus is on the new requirements created by the Affordable Care Act for periodic community needs assessment by non-profit hospitals. In discussing how these requirements will be implemented, she emphasizes the need to speak to policy-makers in plain English about results, not process. She says:

“Policy-makers, we must note, don’t care much about process unless they believe (based on evidence or faith) that a given process leads to important outcom

es. If you want your research to have an impact on policy, make sure you pay attention to those outcomes! And make sure you can summarize your research concisely and in plain English rather than ‘research-speak.’ “ 

It reminded me that, when you’re dealing policy-makers who are, first and foremost, politicians, even the best evidence, succinctly presented in plain English with an eye to beneficial outcomes, is frequently not enough. We witnessed this just a couple of months ago with the watering-down and eventual collapse of gun control legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.

Faced with volumes of evidence from around the world about the efficacy of background checks, dealer licensing, and regulation of assault-style weapons; and faced with overwhelming public support for universal background checks and more dealer oversight, legislators punted.

While the gun control issue is obviously way more highly charged than most, it illustrates just how important personal outcomes, not public outcomes, can be to policy-makers. As public health researchers and practitioners, how do we incorporate appeals to self-interest into policy implementation?

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Comments (2) -

Roger David Hardesty
Roger David Hardesty United States
7/19/2013 1:23:35 PM

I've engaged to help a population, historically on the downside of power, influence a US Senator on potential degradation to civil rights as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act rolls out. Lifting concerns from those who've experienced mental health challenges, it's been a challenge to frame their concerns in language I think politicians will respond to.

Jacobmartin United States
8/8/2013 12:33:29 AM

Public health is a kind of topic that should be taken seriously as for proper and safe living there is a  need of full public health awareness. It can increased with policies and every person self efforts.

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