Public policy is the fast track to improving health. Policy interventions reach broad populations and do not depend on labor-intensive, one-on-one clinical services. Examples include clean indoor air laws that have dramatically reduced smoking rates and smoking-related illnesses, locating schools away from freeways that reduces the frequency and severity of asthma attacks, laws lowering blood alcohol levels of intoxication that reduce motor vehicle fatalities, and other policy interventions
Despite the evidence, we continue to overinvest in health care technologies and procedures at the clinical level and underinvest in health improvements at the population level. Not all population-based preventive policies and services are cost effective (e.g., diabetes screening), but many are (e.g., screenings for colorectal, breast and cervical cancer) and should be pursued at the policy level for broad implementation.
Health disparities are not solvable solely within our health care system. Our best bet is to address their underlying social, economic and environmental determinants with evidence-based, timely policy interventions.
Health policy: It’s not just for wonks.