Public Health versus Medical Care
Through my years working in the field of public health, I have encountered several individuals that do not know the distinction between public health and medical care.
These individuals include professionals or just the regular person from the street.
Often times, I hear people define public health as “it’s the health of the public” and medical care as “it only focuses on individual’s health.”
Recently, I was asked to research the distinction between public health and medical care. While conducting my research, I found in a book titled “Introduction to Public Health” by Mary Jane Schneider, the BEST comparison between medical care and public health. It not only defines the core functions of public health (assessment, policy development, assurance), but compares and contrasts them with the medical care practice.
While medicine is concerned with individual patients, public health regards the community as its patient, trying to improve the health of that population. Medicine focuses on healing patients who are ill. Public health focuses on preventing illness.
In carrying out its core functions, public health – like a doctor with his/her patient – assesses the health of a population, diagnoses its problems, seeks the causes of those problems, and devises strategies to cure them. Assessment constitutes the diagnostic function, in which a public health agency collects, assembles, analyzes, and makes available information on the health of the population. Policy development, like a doctor’s development of a treatment plan for a sick patient, involves the use of scientific knowledge to develop a strategic approach to improving the community’s health. Assurance is equivalent to the doctor’s actual treatment of the patient. Public health has the responsibility of assuring that the services needed for the protection of public health in the community are available and accessible to everyone. These include environmental, educational, and basic medical services. If public health agencies do not provide these services themselves, they must encourage others to do so or require such actions through regulation.
As you can see, the fields of public health and medical care are interconnected; while the physician focuses on the health of the individual, public health focuses on the health of the entire population, and both are working together to improve the overall health of a community.
To learn more about public health and the effort to establish a regional health department in the Lehigh Valley, visit RenewLV’s Regional Health Initiative page.