Throughout my career, I have been questioned about how public health and hospitals are related. The answer is, public health and hospitals are very closely related. Although it may not seem apparent to the average onlooker, many facets of a hospital contain public health components and address public health issues.
First, many hospitals are the cornerstone of the community. The hospital provides the basis for health care and health information in many towns and cities throughout America. An entire group of hospitals exist called public hospitals and most are members of America's Essential Hospitals (formerly the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems). These hospitals meet the needs of the under-served and under-insured throughout the country. In addition to public hospitals, community hospitals provide many public health services that otherwise may not be present. Several smaller communities cannot support a public health department. As a result, school physicals, vaccinations, public health initiatives and health education are handled by the community hospital.
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Second, a great deal of hospital financing is public health based. Medicaid is the nation's largest public health insurance program. Medicare provides public health insurance to the elderly. Other hospitals rely on public health grants and research to keep their organizations financially afloat. Furthermore, public health initiatives permeate traditional health insurance. Health prevention, health education, disease management (population health), prevention and promotion are all long time public health initiatives.
Finally, there are the less obvious forms of public health in hospitals. Many states license providers through their departments of public health, accredit hospitals through their state health departments, and provide information to consumers. Hospitals also utilize public health measures by tracking quality measures, addressing safety issues, providing health care advocacy and designing programs that benefit the community.