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Community-level legal and policy innovations or “experiments” can be important levers to improve health. States and localities are empowered through the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution to use their police powers to protect the health and welfare of the public. Many legal and policy tools are available, including: the power to tax and spend; regulation; mandated education or disclosure of information, modifying the environment — whether built or natural (e.g., zoning, clean water laws); and indirect regulation (e.g., court rulings, or deregulation). These legal and policy interventions can be targeted to specific needs at the community level and are often relatively low-cost, but high impact interventions. As every community is different, effective laws and policies will vary. This freedom allows states and localities to, as Justice Louis Brandeis argued, truly serve as “laboratories of democracy.”
While the global threat of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in 2014 was concentrated in several West African countries, its effects have been felt in many developed countries including the United States. Initial, select patients with EVD, largely among American health care workers (HCWs) volunteering in affected regions, were subsequently transported back to the states for isolation and treatment in high-level medical facilities. This included Emory University Hospital, which sits adjacent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.
The first domestic case of EVD occurred in late September in Dallas, Texas. Additional exposures of two HCWs generated an array of legal issues for state and local public health authorities, hospitals, and providers. Consideration of these issues led to extensive discussion among lawyers, public health practitioners, and other attendees at a late-breaking session on EVD and Legal Preparedness at the 2014 National Public Health Law conference. In this commentary, session presenters from CDC and Emory University share their expert perspectives on legal and policy issues underlying state and local powers to quarantine and isolate persons exposed to or infected with Ebola, as well as facets of hospital preparedness underlying the successful treatment of patients with EVD.
States are rapidly modifying law and policy to increase access to the opioid antidote naloxone, and the provision of naloxone rescue kits (NRK) for use in the event of overdose is becoming increasingly common. As of late 2014 the majority of states had passed laws increasing naloxone access, and nearly as many have modified emergency responder scope of practice protocols to permit Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and law enforcement officers to administer the medication. While the text of these laws is generally similar, their implementation varies among states.
This article outlines experiences and lessons learned from two diverse states, Massachusetts and North Carolina. In Massachusetts naloxone access initiatives were well underway before formal legislative action occurred, while in North Carolina the passage of a naloxone access law served as a catalyst for the creation of new programs and facilitated the scale-up of existing ones. In both states legislative action was necessary to permit the prescription and dispensing of naloxone to the friends and family members of people who use opioids, a key legal change.
E-cigarettes, sometimes referred to as ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems), include a broad range of products that deliver nicotine via heating and aerosolization of the drug. ENDS come in a variety of forms, but regardless of form generally consist of a solution containing humectant (e.g., propylene glycol or glycerol), flavorings, and usually nicotine (some solutions do not contain nicotine); a battery-powered coil that heats the solution into an aerosol (usually referred to as vapor) in an atomizing chamber; and a mouthpiece through which the user draws the vapor into the mouth and lungs. The devices may be closed systems containing prefilled cartridges, or open systems, where the user manually refills a 1-2 ml. tank with solution. What started as closed-system cigarette-shaped devices marketed as an adjunct for smoking cessation, has transitioned rapidly to literally thousands of hip and funky-designed open-system hookah pens, vape pens, and modifiable devices. For younger people, these forms are the “in” thing, while traditional cigarette-shaped devices are “out.”
Surveillance in public health is the means by which people who are responsible for preventing or controlling threats to health get the timely, ongoing, and reliable information they need about the occurrence, antecedents, time course, geographic spread, consequences, and nature of these threats among the populations they serve. “Policy surveillance” is the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis, and dissemination of information about laws and other policies of health importance.
Most babies born each year in the U.S. undergo mandatory newborn screening to detect serious medical conditions that can cause devastating effects if treatment is not initiated prior to the onset of symptoms. Not all of the blood collected from newborns is used during routine newborn screening, and many states retain the residual dried blood samples (DBS). DBS have a broad range of potential uses, from program evaluation to public health and biomedical research unrelated to newborn screening. State laws vary regarding whether parental consent is required to use DBS for secondary research, but federal now requires parental consent for the use of DBS in federally funded research.
This paper examines two policy initiatives that research shows can increase opportunities for physical activity and, in turn, improve health outcomes. These initiatives — shared use and Safe Routes to School (SRTS) — can and should be embraced by schools to improve student and community health. Fear of liability, however, has made many schools reluctant to support these efforts despite their proven benefits. This paper addresses school administrators’ real and perceived liability concerns and identifies four strategies for managing the fear of liability and mitigating any potential liability exposure.
Obesity is a public health problem in the United States. Experts have identified the regulation of food marketing as a policy strategy to address obesity and poor nutrition. However, the First Amendment can be a barrier to reducing exposure to problematic food marketing. In recent years, courts have become increasingly protective of speech, and particularly of “commercial speech,” or advertising, which can make it more difficult to regulate certain marketing practices.
The health care industry will be a large customer of big data while predictive analytics already underlie important health care and public health initiatives. Yet big data are not benign. For example, data brokers, the businesses that buy, process, and sell “big data” are performing an end-run around health data protection by creating data “proxies” outside of HIPAA-protected space. From 2012-14 various branches of the federal government published five major reports on privacy. All five were in favor of increased regulation of data brokers. However, their recommendations for legislative or regulatory intervention were quite diverse. This essay describes the various proposals and offers a critical synthesis.
For decades, health information has been collected and shared for health care delivery and public health purposes. While the “primary use” of patient data for providing direct health care services is the cornerstone of health care practice, health departments rely on data sharing for research and analysis to support disease prevention and health promotion in the population. As the U.S. health system undergoes a digital revolution, health information that was previously captured in paper form now can be captured electronically. Electronic health information (EHI) has transformed the efficiency, capacity, and functions of the U.S. health system. For this reason, there is increased attention to the “secondary use” of electronic patient data for public health uses, including disease reporting and investigation, syndromic surveillance, and patient-specific or population-level communications about health conditions and their associated risk factors. Secondary uses may also encompass clinical research, licensure, and payment for services.
“Health in All Policies” (HiAP) is the latest manifestation of an ecological approach to public health enhancement — one that recognizes connections between health and other sectors, and that socioeconomic determinants of health are significant. HiAP is related to other holistic, prevention-oriented approaches to collective health, such as the use of Health Impact Assessments to evaluate the health externalities of pending government decisions. Yet HiAP is unique. It goes beyond evaluation of specific projects and policies, and embodies a distinct approach to cross-sectoral public health work.
Medical care in the United States traditionally has focused on the treatment of disease rather than on its prevention. Heart disease, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic diseases are the primary drivers of American health care costs; compared to other high-income countries, U.S. health indices are lowest and costs are highest.
A “triple aim” — “improving the individual experience of care, improving the health of populations, and reducing the per capita costs of care for populations” — has gained traction, as the social determinants of health (non-genetic, non-clinical factors including health behaviors, social and economic factors, and the physical environment) are recognized as having significant effects on health outcomes.
The environment, particularly, land and water, play a powerful role in sustaining and supporting American Indian and Alaska Native communities in the United States. Not only is water essential to life and considered — by some Tribes — a sacred food in and of itself, but environmental water resources are necessary to maintain habitat for hunting and fishing. Many American Indian and Alaska Native communities incorporate locally caught traditional subsistence foods into their diets, and the loss of access to subsistence foods represents a risk factor for food security and nutrition status in indigenous populations. Negative health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes and cancer, have accompanied declines in traditional food use in indigenous communities throughout the United States.
State health departments are at the core of the United States (U.S.) public health infrastructure. Surveillance to monitor trends in disease and injury; the development, coordination, and delivery of services; and public education are some of the core functions health department employees oversee every day. As such, agencies and their employees are well positioned to inform policy decisions that affect the public’s health. However, little is known about the role of health department staff — a sizeable proportion of the public health workforce — as advocates for public health policies, independent of their agency roles. Anecdotally, some health department employees with whom we have spoken expressed reluctance to engage in policy advocacy for fear of violating little known or understood agency or state rules.
Drinking water is an important health behavior to support overall child health. Research indicates that children are consuming too little water and too many sugary drinks. Overconsumption of sugary drinks increases child risk for the epidemics of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases like type-II diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Increasing access to appealing, low-cost drinking water in schools and childcare where children spend much of their time supports efforts to reduce sugary drink consumption. Drinking water infrastructure is key to water access in childcare and schools. In 2012-2013, almost one-third of permanent U.S. school buildings had plumbing systems in fair or poor condition, and almost 40 percent had major renovations or repairs planned.3 Basic plumbing standards for new construction and major renovations or repairs are contained in state and local plumbing codes, and many of these codes are derived from model codes established by private organizations. This article describes the model code process and intervention points where the public health community can work to improve plumbing standards in school buildings and childcare centers.
Each of us has written about the importance of reframing the debate over public health paternalism. Our individual explorations of the many and varied paths forward from libertarian “nanny state” objections to the “new public health” have been intimately informed by collaboration. This article represents a summary of our current thinking — reflecting the ground gained through many fruitful exchanges and charting future collaborative efforts.
Our starting point is that law is a vitally important determinant of population health, and the interplay among law, social norms, cultural beliefs, health behaviors, and healthy living conditions is complex. Anti-paternalists’ efforts to limit the scope of public health law to controlling only the proximal determinants of infectious diseases are utterly unjustifiable in the face of so much preventable death, disability, and disparity. Equally important, the anti-paternalism push is deeply counter-majoritarian and undemocratic, threatening to disable communities from undertaking measures to improve their own well-being.
Following the tragic shootings in Newtown (Connecticut), Aurora (Colorado), Isla Vista (California) and others, increased national attention has focused on the relationship between mental illness and gun violence. While some have called for enhanced regulation of firearm possession by persons with mental illness, others have argued that such actions would be ineffective and enhance stigma associated with mental illness while discouraging treatment seeking.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an urgent priority. While few would argue that action to mitigate the causes of climate change should be led by public health practitioners, public health has a critical role in adaptation efforts. Adaptation seeks to lessen human vulnerability to extreme weather and to increased variability in temperature and precipitation. Climate change as an emerging health issue provides a test case for new approaches to public health: approaches that emphasize both collaboration with other government and private entities and application of innovative legal strategies.
The diversity of state confidentiality laws governing public health data presents a significant challenge for public health initiatives. This challenge is further complicated by the array of confidentially laws that are relevant within a state as disclosure and usage standards vary depending upon data holder, type, and source. These laws often have not been updated to address modern confidentiality risks such as unlawful data linkage or breach, leaving many public health organizations without clear guidance in the contentious area of individual privacy. To address these challenges, public health organizations have increasingly turned to the science of de-identification, but whether de-identification adequately meets the many and varied state confidentiality legal requirements remains an unanswered question.