Dr. June Gower has a Ph.D. in Public Policy & Administration in Health Services and multiple degrees in nursing. She’s worked in the healthcare industry since graduating from high school when she joined the Army as a field medic. During her many decades on the job, she’s learned what makes for an effective public health policy. Particularly as the pandemic has thrown the need for better measures into focus, she comments on the common threads that spell success.
Innovation and specificity: A public healthcare policy with a generic goal is unlikely to capture the public’s attention. It may bring more awareness to a cause, but without something new to offer (e.g., research, treatment, diagnostic changes, etc.), the policy may not alter behavior in any natural way. Dr. June Gower says that warning against second-hand smoke and stipulating how many feet a smoker needs to be at least 20 feet away from a public building are two very different things.
Strong political commitment: As seen with COVID-19, public health can be driven by all sorts of factors. Considering health, whether physical or mental, is such a personal matter, it’s no wonder that the commitment varies by person. Dr. June Gower comments that this is understandable but that a lack of commitment by politicians is also a quick path to a failed policy. It’s also a proven way to better the public’s trust. In the case of COVID CDC and Public Health leaders should have crafted the messaging and asked the politicians to leave their opinions at home. The misinformation and confusing topics made it difficult for the public to make sound decisions. COVID was a public health issue, not a political statement, and could have been handled like any other disease process that affects the safety of the public as a whole community.
Effective management: Whether it’s a workforce or a neighborhood, there need to be people who can implement the directives of the policy. Much like political support, the leaders need to be on board with the changes and remind people about the objectives. Gower says that when everyone has their own opinion and approach to health, effective management is typically the most significant predictor of how the policy will impact the community.
Simple messaging: When it comes to public health, Dr. June Gower says that communication must be clean and straightforward. The goal is to impart a clear path toward better health, but it should also encourage a dialog with those affected by the policy. The internet has made it possible to find any number of claims, many of which are backed by dubious evidence at best, so factoring in popular viewpoints may be needed to land on a strategy that works.
Dr. Gower on Staying the Course
With all the complexity of healthcare policies, it would be easy to proclaim that the efforts aren’t worth the results. However, Dr. June Gower says that this is faulty thinking. There are plenty of public health policies that have succeeded in their objectives, and the reduction in fatality rates and the improvement in quality of life are undeniable for both acute and chronic alignments.
The key is to evaluate the program and policy scientific outcomes, boost public opinion with scientific facts, and keep the dialog open, long before it goes into effect. The only way to lessen the disconnect between healthcare professionals and the public is to ensure that the goals are such that everyone can understand them and support the cause.