Public health must be involved in innovative and creative strategies to prevent disease and change the conditions that lead to health issues (social determinants) in communities.

Those are the observations of Michael Frazer, PhD and executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). Frazer was the keynote speaker at a recent public health conference in Lincoln.

“We’ve got to prevent our way out of our health issues. We can’t keep doing what we’ve always been doing,” Frazer said.

Frazer said change can’t happen until public health systems reach out and connect with the people they serve.

That means moving away from thinking about the programs that are offered to the populations that are impacted, he said. For example, organize public health activities based on how they touch the lives of all residents across the course of their lives.

He suggested public health move away from clinics that deliver health care to patients to community awareness and health promotion and disease prevention, all with an eye on how that reduces health care costs in the future.

Changing rules and laws to keep people healthy and out of the hospital and emergency rooms is another strategic move Frazer advocated. This is similar to efforts by public health officials to reduce the use of tobacco, the consumption of sugary drinks and junk food.

He said there is also an opportunity to use health and other data to create a holistic approach to health at local and state levels.

Frazer calls it getting back to public health’s roots: guiding efforts toward patient-centered, population-focused programs and policies that will be more efficient and helpful to those public health serves.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska was a sponsor of the Nebraska Public Health Conference – Connecting to Transform Public Health.