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Ideas and Change in Public Health Law

posted on Thu, Mar 3 2011 8:41 am by Jill Krueger

Public Health Law
New ideas are often the starting point for change, and that is true in public health as well as in   other parts of society. A new publication from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, To Improve Health and Health Care, reflects on how innovative ideas supported by the Foundation have moved into the mainstream.

The authors, David Colby and Stephen Isaacs, identify four key elements of an idea in the process of policy change in public health:

1.     the idea is seen by a substantial portion—or at least an influential portion—of the population as a potential solution to a pressing problem;

2.     the political system is receptive to the adoption of new ideas—especially when legislation is the means of spreading them;

3.     the evidence is strong that an idea is workable and perhaps cost-effective; and

4.     committed advocates keep the idea in the forefront and fight for its widespread adoption.

One thought that strikes me about this framework is that it is not all about being on the cutting edge. The process depends upon the work of trailblazers, to be sure, but it doesn’t end there.

Change depends upon people who keep up on the field of public health as a whole.It depends upon people who are tuned in and engaged in adapting policies from other cities, counties and states to their own political and cultural environment.

Change depends upon researchers who collect evidence to demonstrate the existence of problems in public health and upon researchers who assess the effectiveness of proposed solutions.

Most importantly, it depends upon connections and dialogue between and among all of these people, including practitioners and researchers and advocates and policy-makers and lawyers.

This is true whether you’re working to become the first county public health department in your state to seek voluntary accreditation. Or if you’re part of a coalition working to become the thirty-second state in the nation to adopt a primary seat belt law. It’s also true if you’re a clinic or a hospital seeking to implement an electronic health record system to better treat patients while protecting their privacy. It’s true from development to implementation to enforcement.

We can all help to popularize and implement public health ideas that save lives and improve the quality of life.

This information was developed by Jill Krueger, senior attorney for the Network for Public Health Law – Northern Region at the Public Health Law Center.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.
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