Preventative Medicine: How Public Health Education Can Improve Patient Care

By: Kellie Lucas, MPH ‘15

Preventative medicine seeks to promote health among individuals and communities through the prevention of disease and advancement of wellness. Improving patient care can start long before an individual utilizes any health care facility.  A recent article published by the New York Times reported that access and convenience to healthcare, bedside manner of physicians and staff, insurance and billing, and perceptions regarding the quality of care were among several top factors that patients determined to be the most important when choosing a hospital. When one thinks of how to improve patient care, the obvious place to start should be to include the patient perspective. If patients are having difficulty gaining access to health care facilities, reporting financial constraints, and overall simply dissatisfied with the local healthcare infrastructure, then these patients are less likely to utilize services, including preventative screening. A study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation states, “Effective clinical preventative services can achieve the dual goals of improving the health of all Americans and making prudent use of scarce resources.” Those trained in public health have an advantage in the healthcare industry and are better prepared to serve their patients through direct course training in biostatistics, community health, medical ethics, and marketing.

Public health officials and policy makers can utilize surveys and research studies in order to assess access to care, health care costs, and improve patient outcomes with public outreach and education promotion within local communities. The online Master of Public Health program at Creighton University helps students capture the true essence of public health through service to others. Acting as patient advocates, students can achieve a better understanding of the needs and disparities of the community through service learning.  The capstone project allows the student to foster community partnerships, better understand the role of health organizations, and help implement change for the greater good. 

Public health has a variety of different sectors all aimed at surveillance, disease prevention, and health promotion. Public health informatics is on the forefront of helping to achieve these vital roles.  Through the development and implementation of electronic health records (EHR), surveillance of patient health and patient follow-up is now at an all-time high. Researchers, clinicians, and public health officials can view this data to extrapolate different trends regarding patient compliance of medications, doctor visits per year, and social history all of which may cast light on underlying issues in the health of the patient. One example of how EHR’s have improved patient outcome was seen within the Columbia Basin Health Association, which provides care to a mostly poor and migrant community; their data showed that with the implementation of EHR’s, physicians and staff could better track their diabetic patients, and drastic improvements with compliance rates were seen with HbA1c levels, foot exams, and eye examinations leading to better patient outcomes.

Listening to the patient and the community and allowing the public full autonomy through clear communication and adequate resources strengthens rapport and builds assurance and trust in local healthcare providers. However, if the patient does not have health insurance or means of transportation to local clinics and emergency rooms, then a view of skepticism can develop among those at a disadvantage. When these individuals choose not to treat illnesses due to financial constraints or lack of access, it can result in a number of chronic and debilitating physical and mental health conditions. A recent report from CNBC notes that 7 in 10 millennials consider cost to be one of the biggest factors when purchasing a healthcare plan, furthermore, most are reluctant to immediately seek medical care in hopes of mitigating large financial costs.  The millennial generation, those between the ages of 18-34, pose different challenges to the healthcare industry than their predecessors, generation X.  According to Becker’s Hospital Review, 93% of millennials do not schedule preventative care visits to their physician. A recent report cited in Forbes shows that 80% of millennials have moved at least once in their lifetime, and almost 60% of those individuals are living somewhere other than their hometown. With each move, the consumer loses the established relationship with their physician, and is yet again faced with the hassle of finding another clinic.  Perhaps, it is because of this fact that millennials are the most receptive age demographic to mobile health apps and telehealth. Public health officials and clinicians in the health marketing sector use this information to sell this type of healthcare specifically towards these patients. An increase in the use of telemedicine and phone apps are helping to eliminate costly travel expenses to clinics and provide flexible appointment times no matter where the patient is located. 

Advocacy for the well-being of others and the selfless dedication to giving those without a voice the power of change is a clear foundational conviction of public health. Tasked with monitoring the challenges and disparities facing different demographics regarding health issues, students and professionals within the field of public health must then seek to reduce these social injustices. The benefit of a public health education helps to orient the students and future community health leaders to the demands and responsibilities assigned to them in future positions. Creating social change takes a multidisciplinary approach, one in which having the educational tools can help drive a successful public health campaign. Classes aimed at community health help identify how the poorest and most disadvantaged populations view the community. Community health workers and students learn how communities function and what demands are not being met, and in turn, can partner with local health organizations to bridge the gap between health care provider and the patient to improve patient satisfaction.  Public health workers yield an education that can positively impact patients on an individual level and on a larger scale supporting the aphorism, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”