Health programs are designed to prevent diseases, promote healthy lifestyles and help individuals cope with chronic health conditions. They can be carried out at the local, state or national level and are a core function of public health. They are also important in achieving broader community development and economic goals such as improving education, employment, housing and food security.
Historically, efforts to improve the nation’s health have been hobbled by a lack of clarity about what to achieve or by pursuit of the wrong goal. Narrow objectives such as access to care, containing costs or boosting profits misalign with the needs of patients and the community. A focus on improving outcomes instead of merely increasing access to quality care can yield more durable gains in population health.
A new paradigm for improving health and well being is emerging from a broader perspective that goes beyond the individual to include community and environmental factors that affect people’s ability to take control of their health. It involves a shift from treating health problems to supporting governments, communities and individuals in building healthy environments and coping skills. It encompasses an array of actions including policy, advocacy and research.
The field of health education is diverse and covers a broad range of topics including community health, consumer health, disease prevention, developmental health, family life, dietary health, fitness, safety and substance abuse. It is taught in schools, colleges and workplaces and is a part of the curriculum at all levels. Its practitioners are known as CHES or Certified Health Education Specialists.
It is a profession in which the primary responsibilities are to assess and identify health education needs, plan, implement and evaluate a program and to communicate information about the role of health in the personal and community context. In addition to classroom instruction, a CHES is responsible for community outreach, training and development, resource development and writing proposals. CHES are recertified every five years.
Developing and implementing successful health programs requires significant effort, commitment, funding and talent management at the highest levels of an organization. Its success is also dependent on a willingness to shift and adjust goals when circumstances change. This could involve moving from a population health approach to a more targeted and measurable equity goal; modifying objectives to incorporate a vaccine that becomes available; or, increasing granularity of metrics to the zip code level. Whenever these changes are made, it is important to gain stakeholder buy-in, celebrate wins and invest in capabilities that may be needed to meet the new objectives. This will mitigate concerns about shifting goalposts that can derail goodwill and lead to burnout.