Partnerships are essential to keep children healthy on a local, state and national scale.
Pediatricians play pivotal roles in confronting the most pressing and escalating public health issues of our time, from their work to prevent childhood disease and obesity to caring for newborns impacted by the Zika virus or opioids misuse.
They advocate for laws that improve safety for children, and alert authorities to potential epidemics or -- as seen in Flint, Mich. -- they might even identify a problem with a community's water supply when children show up with increased levels of lead toxicity.
Pediatricians cannot do this work alone. Their collaboration with public health professionals and institutions is essential. To highlight these partnerships, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published a policy statement, "Pediatricians and Public Health: Optimizing the Health and Well-Being of the Nation's Children," in the February 2018 issue of Pediatrics.
In the statement, published online Jan. 22, the AAP recommends a population-based approach that identifies opportunities for pediatricians and public health professionals to work together to improve the health of children in their communities and lower health care costs.
"Pediatricians and public health partners are in an ideal position to advocate for children and families beyond their patient office visits," said Alice A. Kuo, MD, PhD, FAAP, a lead author of the policy statement. "The two professions can work together to promote prevention, improve the delivery of health services and advocate for healthier conditions in communities."
The policy statement cites recent child health scenarios as examples of collaboration by pediatrics and public health, including the Flint water contamination crisis and Zika virus outbreak that was tied to microcephaly in infants. In addition, a measles outbreak at Disneyland between December 2014 and February 2015 prompted hundreds of California pediatricians to push for legislation that ultimately mandated that all children be vaccinated on school entry.
"Pediatricians offer a respected, credible voice advocating for issues that affect children's health," said Pauline A. Thomas, MD, FAAP, co-author of the statement. "This advocacy is needed at local, state and federal levels, not only to push for adequate funding of the health care and public health infrastructure, but to educate others on the social, economic, education and environmental resources that every child needs for healthy development."
The AAP makes specific recommendations for individual pediatricians on partnering with public health professionals. They include:
Being aware of reporting requirements for disease outbreaks and vaccine-adverse events.
Using resources and recommendations provided by public health agencies, including accessing public health data to identify population health needs.
Serving as advisors to public health entities and training others within their own institutions on population health curricula.
Sharing data and information with other agencies.
Partnering on prevention and health promotion projects.
Working with AAP chapters to develop relationships with state and local health departments.
"We know that by partnering with our public health colleagues, we are helping to create the conditions for children to have healthy childhoods and to remain healthy as adults," Dr. Kuo said.