Public Health

4 priorities for tackling the next public health emergency

Jennifer Lubell , Contributing News Writer

What’s the news: In wake of COVID-19’s four-year anniversary last month, the AMA and other organizations have made a renewed commitment to prepare for the next public health emergency through four policy actions: coordination, always-on emergency preparedness, real-time detection of disease, and exchange of actionable data.

The AMA has joined with America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP), American Hospital Association (AHA) and Kaiser Permanente to form the Common Health Coalition. The coalition’s main goal is to take lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen relationships between health care organizations and public health systems.

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“The American Medical Association is committed to improving the health of the nation and removing obstacles that interfere with patient care,” said AMA President Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH.

Why it’s important: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, significant barriers hindered public health and hampered our collective response to a national and global crisis. We are working with partners to overcome these barriers and ensure that we are better prepared for the next public health challenge,” said Dr. Ehrenfeld, who noted that the coalition’s success depends on the support of partners from across all health care sectors.

“Kaiser Permanente is ready to take the steps needed to invest in the well-being of our members, our communities, and the broader U.S. public health system,” said Bechara Choucair, MD, the integrated health system’s senior vice president and chief health officer. 

The actions that the founding organizations have committed to taking, he added, “will result in foundational improvements to the way health care and public health work together—and that will transform how people experience health in our country.”

Several Permanente Medical Groups, the multispecialty physician groups that provide care to Kaiser Permanente members, are members of the AMA Health System Program that provides enterprise solutions to equip leadership, physicians and care teams with resources to help drive the future of medicine.

The Common Health Coalition’s new strategy covers these four priority areas.

Coordination between health care and public health. The founding organizations will develop or participate in agreements for voluntary use in data- and resource-sharing, operational partnerships, and technical assistance provision between local hospitals, local health systems, physician groups and local and state public health agencies. AHA, ACHP and AHIP will be encouraging their members to work with health system partners to create or revise public-facing maps and dashboards.

Always-on emergency preparedness. The goal is to create shared emergency preparedness plans between health care organizations and public health entities, setting up a strong infrastructure that can be readily scaled up during emergencies. As an example, the AMA and Kaiser Permanente will be identifying core barriers for health care staff participation in disaster staffing programs.

Real-time disease detection to assess and respond to threats. All five organizations will work to expand electronic disease reporting through various electronic data exchange platforms, to improve consistency of reported health data. AMA and the other organizations will be encouraging their members to participate in electronic data exchange such as electronic case and laboratory reporting, and syndromic detection. 

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Exchange of actionable data, particularly to advance equity. The aim is to invest in real-time data sharing and analysis with public health. The AMA and AHA will be encouraging their members to collect and share data to help identify and address health inequities.

Expert analysis and real-world examples of health care and public health organizations working together helped inform these new commitments. They also reflect guidance from an advisory council of public health leaders at the local, state and federal levels.

“Only by weaving together health care delivery and public health—using the shared experiences of COVID-19 as our stitching—will we ensure that our health system is ready to confront the next crisis,” said the coalition’s chair, Dave A. Chokshi, MD, MSc.

Learn more: The coalition’s founding members are encouraging U.S. health care and public health organizations to join this effort. Its “Common Health Compendium” highlights activities that organizations can adopt as they join the coalition and commit to action. It also plans to share resources to help other health care organizations support public health, such as virtual learning and action workshops.

Explore further with the AMA’s guide, Embedding Equity in Crisis Preparedness and Response in Health Systems, and visit the AMA COVID-19 resource center for physicians for clinical information, guides and resources, and updates on advocacy and medical ethics.