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Assessment in Public Health

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One of the core functions in public health, assessment is the systematic collection, assembly, analysis, and dissemination of information about the health of a community.

Cycle of Public Health FunctionsPolicy development, the second of the core functions in public health, is the creation of comprehensive public health policies based on scientific knowledge. Assurance, the third core function, is the pledge to constituents that services necessary to achieve agreed-upon goals are provided by encouraging actions of others (private or public), requiring action through regulation, or providing service directly.

Assessment includes the following:

  1. Determining the health needs of the community by establishing a systematic process that periodically provides pertinent health information.

  2. Investigating adverse health events and health hazards by conducting timely investigations that identify the magnitude of health problems, including their duration, trends, location, and at-risk populations.

  3. Analyzing the determinants of identified health problems to determine the reasons why certain populations are at risk for adverse health outcomes.

Thus, assessment is the foundation of public health practice at the local level and part of a cycle of activities that is designed to meet the mission of public health, to fulfill society's interest in ensuring the conditions in which people can be healthy.

Without accurate information on the health status of a community and a clear understanding of the available resources, we cannot make informed decisions about which areas should have priority, which policies might be effective, or which interventions might be possible to implement.

We need a baseline understanding of the community's health before we can interpret how well any new policies or interventions improve health, how cost-effective one option is over another, or how long a program might continue.

Reference: Institute of Medicine, Stoto MA, Abel C, and Dievler A, eds. Healthy Communities: New Partnerships for the Future of Public Health. Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 1996.



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