• Chapter Survey Shows FP Collaboration on Public Health

    February 22, 2022, 8:00 a.m. News Staff — Improving collaboration between public health agencies and family medicine is a continuous process. Just as individual family physicians take different paths to address their patients’ health based on associated circumstances, individual AAFP chapters approach public health issues in different ways based on the needs of their constituents.

    public health concept

    To get a better understanding of current collaboration between family medicine and public health agencies and how it can be improved, the Academy sent a survey to AAFP chapters in December 2021 to measure individual chapters' level of interaction with public health agencies. The survey results highlight the various ways that chapters already engage with public health agencies while showing several potential new avenues for collaboration.

    Methods and Findings

    The survey was sent to the executive vice president or executive director of each state AAFP chapter as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, Uniformed Services and Virgin Islands chapters. Among questions about other topics, it asked

    • whether the chapter had a public health committee or work group, and if so, what its goals were;
    • whether the chapter had a professional relationship with any of several types of public health entities;
    • which public health topics the chapter advocated for at the state and/or local levels;
    • whether the chapter had members who worked closely with their state or local health department, and if so, the level of their involvement; and
    • what types of opportunities were available for improving collaboration between family physicians and local/state health departments or federal public health agencies.

    A total of 33 chapters responded.

    While eight chapters reported having a formal public health committee or work group, several chapters said that they have a public health member interest group that performed similar work. Other chapters split public health issues among other committees or viewed their committee work through a public health and equity perspective.

    Thirty-two chapters said that they had a relationship with their state health department, while nearly two-thirds reported having a relationship with at least one local health department. Some chapters also had official relationships with American Public Health Association chapters or public health entities specific to individual states.

    In terms of state-level advocacy, vaccinations and tobacco cessation were the most common public health topics for chapters, followed by care accessibility and health information exchange. Some chapters also advocated for specific issues such as behavioral health, the health of mothers and infants, and screening for lead toxicity.

    Thirty-one chapters reported having members who worked closely with state or local health departments, including many whose members either held formal positions in such a department or were in regular contact with individuals at their local health department.

    Finally, chapters cited several potential opportunities for increased collaboration between FPs and state, local or federal health agencies. These ranged from establishing clear lines of communication and protocols between entities and developing a collaborative community response model to public health crises, to using family medicine clinics to deploy targeted education programs and having local health departments support the storage and distribution of vaccines.

    Next Steps

    The AAFP chapter survey is part of an ongoing effort by the Academy to strengthen collaboration between family physicians and public health agencies at all levels. Upcoming work will explore opportunities for FPs to engage with public health officials and agencies at the community level.

    Members who want to learn more about the survey results or participate in future projects can contact Kathryn “Kat” Istas, M.P.H., program and evaluation strategist in the Academy’s Division of Research, Health of the Public and Science.