Health programs are designed to promote healthy behaviors in individuals and communities and help people avoid diseases, illnesses and other chronic conditions. They may include services to prevent mental health problems, physical injuries or accidents, and substance abuse. Health programs can also help people improve their access to health care by lowering costs and insurance premiums and providing more convenient ways to get the services they need, such as through telehealth.
Health programs often focus on the social determinants of health, which are factors in people’s environments that shape their ability to be healthy. Some of these factors are behavioral, such as smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Others are social, such as housing, education and economic status. Changing these factors can have a significant impact on people’s ability to lead healthy lives.
Some health programs are focused on improving the quality of health care for underserved populations by focusing on a patient-centered approach to service delivery, including support for patient advocacy and self-management activities. Specialized outpatient care and clinical programs for children with complex health care needs have also emerged in hospitals across the country. These specialized clinics provide in-depth care to children with multiple conditions and interface with the range of community providers and entities that these children and their families depend upon, including medical equipment vendors and home health agencies (Gordon, 2007).
Various types of programs exist to increase the use of healthy habits by teaching people how to make better choices about their lifestyles. They typically target groups at risk for negative health outcomes, such as children and adolescents who are at high risk of developing depression, or individuals with chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. They can also be directed toward a specific population group, such as adults who are at high risk for suicide or alcohol misuse.
The most effective health programs are those that involve collaboration with patients and their family members at all levels of health care. This includes involving patients and their family members in the development of health care policy; professional training, program implementation and evaluation; service design; and planning for hospital facilities. Patients and their family members can also serve on advisory councils, committees and task forces that address operational issues or other topics in health care facilities and systems.
Health programs designed to address the health needs of underserved populations are often supported through federal grant funding. For example, the Health Center Program grants funds to facilities that focus on specific populations, such as individuals experiencing homelessness or migrant and seasonal agricultural workers. The Affordable Care Act gave states the option to create a Basic Health Program that covers health care for residents with incomes between the levels of the Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. These state-based plans are sometimes referred to as health center lookalikes. In addition, private non-profit or public entities may receive funding to provide health services for underserved populations.