Public Health Policy Analysis: What It Is and How to Pursue a Career

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Master of Public Health

Close up of a person washing their hands in the sink with soap

Since the beginning of 2020, the global population has been introduced to an increasing number of important public health policies related to the COVID-19 virus. These policies ― including public health protective measures like social distancing, frequent handwashing, and recommendations for cloth masks in public ― are aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. These policies have quickly become facets of regular daily life for citizens around the globe as we as a society continue to deal with COVID-19.

While just a small snapshot of the overarching public health policies put in place, these COVID-related policies help demonstrate the importance of public health policy creation, as well as policy analysis.

As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out, there are five main phases involved in the creation and implementation of public health policy, with analysis representing a critical part of the process. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the development of public health policies, where analysis fits in, and the key role that public health professionals play.

What falls under public health policies?

American citizens have been exposed to more public health policy recently in the wake of the novel coronavirus. However, these public health protection measures certainly aren’t the first or only examples of visible public health policies on a large scale. Public health policies can emerge from local government groups, national and federal organizations like the World Health Organization or the CDC, as well as individual public health professionals. These policies and findings can relate to a whole host of different public health areas, including efforts like:

  • The push to make dining establishments and other public areas smoke-free
  • Education and awareness efforts around the health consequences of alcohol and tobacco use
  • Training for food safety and handling

Once developed, analyzed, and implemented, these public health policies might be published by the CDC or WHO, or appear in publications like the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. This work is then followed up with awareness, education, and enforcement to make the public aware of the policies and encourage them to follow the guidance in their daily lives.

“No smoking” sign

Developing public health policies: The 5-phase model

According to the CDC’s Office of the Associate Director for Policy and Strategy, the organization uses a five-part process for public health policies:

  1. Problem identification: The public health issue and its root cause are clearly identified. This problem and its underlying cause are then outlined by public health professionals within a detailed report, summarizing the impact on the public and societal health.
  2. Policy analysis: Once the issue and its root cause are identified, public health professionals can move on to analysis. During this phase, stakeholders review the issue and analyze all the potential solutions to the problem through an in-depth and systematic analysis process, the CDC noted. The goal is to select the most reasonable, efficient, and effective means to address the problem.
  3. Strategy and policy development: Next, public health officials work to create and draft the policy, which outlines the problem, its cause, and the ideal solution chosen during the policy analysis step. Stakeholders also strategize about how to best enact the solution and ensure adoption among the public.
  4. Policy enactment: After the draft of the actual public health policy has been developed, stakeholders can go about getting the necessary permissions and approval to enact the policy. This might require receiving authorization from organizations like WHO or the CDC, from other federal agencies and legislators, or school district administrators, depending on the type and purpose of the public health policy.
  5. Policy implementation: The final step in this process is implementation, where the policy is actively put in place within society. Public health professionals will need to support implementation with additional efforts, including educating people about the details of the policy and monitoring enforcement.

The CDC’s model for public health policy is similar to that used by other governing bodies across the globe as well.

The importance of policy analysis

One of the most critical parts of the creation, development, and implementation of public health policy is the analysis stage. Once the problem and its root cause are identified and detailed, public health professionals and other stakeholders engage in analysis, including both qualitative and quantitative methods, to discern the possible ways to best address the public health issue.

As the CDC explained, the analysis process includes several of its own steps, including:

  • Considerable research into the cause of the public health issue, as well as the suggested strategies for solving the problem
  • Identification and detailing of how possible public health solutions might affect the overall health of the public. Stakeholders also look into possible negative effects of suggested solutions, including how these might potentially contribute to a larger issue, the overall mortality rate, as well as other economic and political factors.
  • Review research and identify the best solution
  • Assess and prioritize the elements related to the identified solution

This analysis phase will include public health professionals, such as those who first identified the public health issue. Others involved in policy analysis might include other subject matter experts, community leaders, economists, and additional knowledgeable stakeholders who can contribute the information necessary to find the most feasible and effective resolution.

Analysis is important for public health policies for several reasons. This phase gives public health professionals and other stakeholders the opportunity to more deeply research and strategize around the potential solutions to the issue. In addition, this analysis process also asks stakeholders to review and understand the possible impact of each proposed solution.

“As you conduct your policy analysis, pay attention to the health impact, cost of implementation, and feasibility of each option,” the CDC recommended.

For instance, one proposed solution may appear to be the best approach for resolving the issue. But if it is highly cost-prohibitive, it won’t be realistic to implement among the public without the right resources. Similarly, a proposed solution may be cost-effective, but may not appropriately address the root cause of the issue and actually contribute to negative impacts on public health.

Looking to established resources

Much of the analysis phase revolves around due diligence, and completing the necessary research to ensure that the best solution is chosen. Public health professionals must review available literature, studies, and other environmental data as they analyze possible public health policy solutions.

The CDC noted that surveys and other studies of the population may be necessary to get the most complete picture of the particular public health best practices.

“[A] literature review [is] an examination of the current body of research about your policy problem (and can include possible policy options),” the CDC said. “This kind of review may help you identify what is already known about the policy options as well as any gaps in the current research. [An] environmental scan [is] a proactive, systematic collection of information about events, trends, and expectations of what you might encounter during the policy process.

Successful public policy analysis hinges on in-depth research of available data and resources, as well as considerable public health expertise to enable professionals to select the best possible solution from the suggested strategies.

An ongoing process

It’s important to note that as additional research and resources emerge, the process of policy analysis may shift to fit this new information.

“Public policy is a dynamic process, operating under changing social, political, and economic conditions,” Britannica author Christopher Simon wrote. “Policy analysis helps public officials understand how social, economic, and political conditions change and how public policies must evolve in order to meet the changing needs of a changing society.”

Pursuing a career in public health policy

Public health policies play a critical role in global society, helping to improve the public’s overall health, wellness, and quality of life. These policies can have great impacts on a population and contribute to a more successful and productive society.

Those interested in pursuing a career in this area should consider a robust higher education program like the online Master of Public Health from Regis College. This program includes a concentration in health policy and management.

Through this program and concentration, students learn about the phases and processes of crafting public health policies at the community level, and within government and health care provider agencies. Students delve into key concepts around improving the delivery, cost, and efficiency of health care, as well as the influence that public health policy can have in this area.

The Health Policy and Management concentration also helps students develop the skills they need to be successful in a public health policy career. This encompasses critical work like conducting in-depth research, analyzing current data and resources, and reviewing existing public health policy.

Courses within this concentration align with these important skills, and cover concepts like:

  • Health policy analysis
  • Health policy, politics, and perspectives
  • Health care economics
  • Contemporary public health issues and policies
  • State health policy
  • Health policy and program implementation

Through this course of study and skill development, students are prepared to pursue rewarding and competitive career paths in the public health field, including roles directly tied to public health policy creation and analysis.

One such career role is health policy analyst. These professionals are responsible for analyzing the ways in which public health policy will impact society and creating the strategy around policy implementation. Policy analysts also review current data to discern the short- and long-term impacts of public health policies and report these findings to other public health stakeholders and decision-makers.

Public health analysts can work for government agencies, community groups and in other environments, and earn a median wage of $62,637 annually.

To find out more about public health policy analysis and pursuing a career in this area, check out our online Master of Public Health program, and connect with one of our Regis College enrollment advisors today.

 

Recommended Readings:

Why study health policy and management?

What can you do with an MPH?

 

Sources:

The CDC Policy Process

The CDC Policy Process – Policy Analysis

Britannica – Policy analysis