Monday, July 20, 2009

Does Public Health need a new name?

Some countries have neither public health infrastructure nor individual healthcare -- think Russia and other former republics of the Soviet Union. Others, like ours, have an oversized enterprise around personal medical interventions, including alternative therapies; public health efforts pale in comparison. Yet others seem to have a desirable balance of both, the Scandinavian nations, for example.

As the most technologically advanced society in the world, what possible reason can the US have for tolerating such poor public health system? After all, it is public health interventions on a large scale -- sewage treatment, clean water, immunization programs -- that deserve most of the credit for our increased longevity over the past century.

The answers may lie in our cultural attitudes of individuality and early adoption. The former eschews anything that may smack of socialism, and in this the "public" in "public health" may be viewed with suspicion. The latter compels us to value the promise of salvation in sexy new gadgetry of modern medicine over the simplicity and self-determinism of such health maintenance tools as eating well, exercising in moderation and getting sound sleep.

So, if I were a marketer, I would suggest that Public Health field adopt some of the high-tech trappings of the healthcare industry and rebrand itself as, perhaps, "Your Individual Plan for Health and Longevity". What, you don't think this will sell? Well, I am not a marketer, of course, and I am probably totally wrong about all this. Or am I?


  1. Yes, it does need some input from appropriate creatives - although this may be more true for tech. advantaged countries, as you indicate.

    I was struck by this remark on Effect Measure: "But we could have done so much better had we invested in public health as a common good, not just a technical fix for a pandemic".

    I wonder if, to some extent, we are losing that sense of shared/social fealty and common good in 'more advanced tech' countries and this undermines a sense of what is important (and even inspirational) about public health.

  2. Dear Evidence, I think that you and I are on the exact same page here -- the pendulum of individualism has swung far from center, and we no longer see the forest, only the trees.