Rebranding Public Health

at 11:35 PM

With HealthCare.gov continuing to flounder, and Republicans calling for Kathleen Sebelius's head, those of us in public health have been frozen in a collective cringe. It's like we've traveled back in time, to that inconceivable era before every 8-year-old could design a functioning website. The whole mess makes public health look...old. Befuddled. And it only heightens what is a longstanding PR problem. So now, more than ever, it's time for public health to redefine itself.

You see, most people don't really get what public health is. As a UC Berkeley Master of Public Health student, I've noticed two main reasons, both our own doing.

First is the huge bureaucracies that deliver health services. Take the California Department of Public Health. It has hundreds of programs, under all sorts of logos and acronyms. You'd never know they're all united.

Second, public health is terrible at self-promotion. By definition, it's at its best when it's invisible. The outbreak that never happens because of strong surveillance, the drinking water so clean you never think twice about it. People in this field do big, ambitious work - but from behind the scenes. Most wouldn't even know where to find their own horns, much less how to toot them.

From Sebelius on down, telling our daily success stories could go a long way when we do occasionally fail. Because now, on top of public health the nebulous and bureaucratic, we've become public health the computer illiterate. When in reality, innovators across the country are harnessing technology to improve the health of millions of people. Around the Bay, we see it in health care startups in San Francisco, data visualization tools at Berkeley's Healthy Communities Institute, and countless others.

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This public shredding must be a tipping point. We won't use tired sayings like "Not your mom's health department" or "Got vaccines?" - but we will rebrand. We'll start sharing all that public health is aside from insurance: from buying local and aging in place to considering health in all policies.

And no, we aren't still using dial-up, but thank you for asking.

With a Perspective, I'm Sophie Egan.

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Sophie Egan is a freelance writer and graduate student at UC, Berkeley.

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