Jan 2024: Public Health Law

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Jan 2024

The January issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice (JPHMP) focuses on public health law. Dawn Pepin and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have contributed a literature review which shows the impact of law on health and economic issues. They describe the development of the field of legal epidemiology. Legal epidemiology is the analysis of law in the cause and prevention of disease and injury. Legal epidemiology studies play an important role in the development of evidence-based public health policy. Their systematic review is the largest examination of literature in this field.

Scott Burris of the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University amplifies this topic in his lead editorial “Legal Epidemiology: Growth and Growing Pains.” He states that Pepin’s study reveals the increase in the number of legal epidemiology studies. He offers a series of recommendations for researchers, funders, and journal editors to improve the field further. As editors of JPHMP, we agree with these recommendations and point to our longstanding interest and record in publishing legal epidemiology articles. Of particular interest, Burris, while making the case for more health legal research, also highlights a finding of Pepin that there may actually be too many legal epidemiology studies published because a number use poor methods and do not present enough basic information. He emphasizes that the importance of quality in this type of research is just as important as clinical research.

The issue contains two important commentaries both on advocacy and also reimbursing social determinants screening in emergency departments. Shelley Hearne and David Jernigan describe a weakness of public health professionals: they lack skills in advocacy to engage and influence decision makers. One way to address this gap is to add core advocacy skills for Master of Public Health training. They applaud the Council of Education for Public Health (CEPH) for adding this requirement for accreditation of these programs. They also endorse the work of the Council of Linkages on identifying competencies for advocacy.

Tehreem Rehman and Jennifer Wiler point out that two-thirds of all emergency department (ED) visits across the nation are for Medicaid alone. Of those visits, common social determinants of health are food insecurity, housing instability, transportation problems, and utility access needs. They refer to studies that describe the valuable role of ED-based social care resources and embedded teams to decrease avoidable hospitalizations, costs, and recidivism of both ED and inpatient care.

Phoebe Kulik and co-authors describe the efforts of the 10 Regional Public Health Training Centers (PHTCs), funded by the Health Resources Services Administration. These are housed at various accredited schools of public health and serve multiple states and or territories. These Centers play an important role in workforce development remedying some of the deficits caused by the pandemic. PHTCs partner with state and local health departments, tribal organizations, and academic institutions to foster a skilled workforce by offering training to professionals and supporting student learning.

The State of Public Health column contributed by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) focuses on approaches to reduce the age-old scourge of congenital syphilis. Testing for congenital syphilis is called for at three points, the first and third trimester and at delivery. Working with state Medicaid agencies is a critical step in reducing this problem.

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