Health programs help people make healthy choices and take action to prevent disease, injury or premature death. Programs range from providing educational materials to implementing prevention interventions in communities and hospitals. They are often part of a larger community-based effort to improve the quality of life and lower healthcare costs. Efforts to promote wellness and reduce the incidence of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma, can save individuals, employers, families, insurance companies and the nation’s healthcare system substantial money.
Individuals can enroll in community health care programs if they are citizens or lawfully present noncitizens, and have incomes below the federal poverty level (FPL) of 133 percent. These programs offer preventive care, diagnostic testing, medication and other treatment services. Unlike traditional Medicare and private insurance plans, community health care is available to anyone with a financial need who can afford it. Generally, health centers and non-profit organizations provide these services to those with low incomes.
A variety of organizations develop and run public health programs, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state agencies and local governments. These groups focus on improving access to affordable healthcare, increasing patient engagement in care decisions and advocating for changes in healthcare policies. Community health efforts aim to lower national healthcare spending, which consumes more than 17 percent of the U.S. economy, a higher percentage than in any other industrialized country.
Community health initiatives are often centered on an understanding of the local environment in which an area’s residents live and work. This includes understanding demographics, such as age, gender and ethnicity, and socioeconomic status and the availability of resources. For example, a COVID-19 vaccination campaign might be less effective in a region where many multigenerational family members live together and prefer to receive vaccines at the same time.
Educating individuals about their health, illness and how to prevent disease is the goal of most community-based programs. The education is usually delivered in schools and through a wide variety of other settings, such as workplaces, religious groups and hospitals. Educators are trained to understand the basic concepts of health promotion and disease prevention, as well as the principles of adult learning. Those with a degree in health education are called certified health educators, or CHES.
Health programs can also address social determinants of health, which influence modifiable risk behaviors such as unhealthy lifestyles and poor nutrition. They can involve community-based coalitions, which bring together diverse stakeholders and use evidence-based practices. They can include community health workers, who can provide education and assistance to the community and provide linkages with healthcare providers. They can also be part of a wider initiative that focuses on prevention, such as reducing obesity and tobacco use. This may involve educational campaigns, distributing healthy food vouchers and supporting recreational activities that encourage physical activity. The broader approach can also reduce the likelihood of emergency room visits, which are expensive for everyone involved.