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Public Health Org Aims to Meet Social Determinants of Health

Karen DeSalvo will co-chair part of the new group working to meet the social determinants of health in the public sector.

PHRASES will work to meet the social determinants of health in the public sector.

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Former HHS Acting Assistant Secretary Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSC, will be co-chairing a new public health institute that will target and engage local health partners to help meet the social determinants of health.

The de Beaumont Foundation and the Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine, and Society (HMS) Program will be spearheading the Public Health Reaching Across Sectors (PHRASES) Initiative. PHRASES will work to educate, train, and engage local community members – such as local government leaders, environmental support, school officials – in understanding their influence on public health.

Most of a patient’s life is spent outside of the hospital and external factors are significant influences on health status. The social determinants of health – factors such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and educational attainment, for example – can drive certain health outcomes regardless of the level of care.

PHRASES contends that community partners can help mitigate some of the differences that stem from the social determinants of health. Local leaders, such as those in government and those spearheading the public sectors, make many decisions that affect the social determinants of health and public health.

For example, public school leaders make decisions about subsidized lunches – and the content of school lunches in general – that influence the health of a community’s youth.

However, too often these community leaders are left unaware of their impact on public health. PHRASES aims to integrate public health experts into these decision-making processes and educate community leaders in the pursuit of overall better community health.

"To achieve broad health gains, public health leaders need to be strategic in catalyzing change, leading action, and engaging partners," said de Beaumont Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hunter.

"This requires reaching out to an increasing array of other leaders and sectors that have the ability to help save lives, save money, and help communities thrive,” he added. “Public health officials need to better understand key partners' goals and work with them to achieve those as well.”

This program is about building partnerships between public health experts and community leaders, said the Aspen Institute’s HSM Program’s Director Ruth Katz. Neither can effectively do their job without the other, she explained.

"We must equip public health leaders with the skills they need to work in partnership with other key sectors at the state and local levels," Katz noted in a statement.

"Public health professionals cannot reach their goals alone, and other sector leaders would benefit from the expertise public health professionals can offer,” Katz continued. “The challenge is to make the value of public health visible, useful, and relevant to decision-makers in housing, education, agriculture, law enforcement, business, and other sectors."

PHRASES will specifically do the following:

  • Create an online overview of public health information, created by public health experts
  • Develop a set of core communication elements that will apply within and across certain public sectors
  • Author a toolkit that displays the evidence tethering public health and social determinants of health
  • Forge partnerships between public health officials and community leaders for mutual training and education

Starfish Media Group CEO and TV host Soledad O’Brien will be co-chairing PHRASES with former Acting Assistant HHS Secretary Karen DeSalvo. The pair will co-chair the PHRASES Advisory Committee.

Public health and the social determinants of health are key indicators of quality healthcare. As the industry tips toward a more value-based healthcare model, it will be important that healthcare experts have a working knowledge of the societal factors that drive patient health outside of the clinic or hospital.

It will also be crucial for public health officials to use that information. Creating partnerships with community leaders and other community partners can help drive patients toward better overall health.

Utilizing strong patient outreach outside of the hospital or clinic will make patients healthier in the long-run, creating a more valuable care experience. 

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