While clinical training emphasizes techniques to meet the personalized needs of the individual patient, it is also important for us to keep in mind the context in which health happens. While a patient's genetics and environment are of course important for many health outcomes, we must also pay attention to a number of other factors that are influencing patient health.
Social factors play an important role. These factors, the social determinants of health, include a patient's physical and built environment, socioeconomic position, neighborhood, occupation and cultural background. These can all inform your clients’ health priorities and decision-making processes. While undoubtedly many behavioral interventions can improve health, they may prove difficult to implement. Because of this, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Promoting adherence to behavioral modifications requires striking a tricky balance.
Understanding the social contexts in which your patients are making their health decisions can help you come up with a plan that's effective. Also, this will help to strengthen the relationship between practitioner and patient. Of course, as dietitians, you interface with public health every day in the form of preventive care; the main goal of many appointments is to prevent the development or progression of health conditions.
Being on top of emerging literature pertaining to trends in morbidity can help you screen your patients. Knowing population and community-level statistics can help you identify which of your patients are most at-risk for certain conditions. You can use this data to guide your practice. While reports are often highly technical, there are a number of blogs, such as Science Daily, that summarize trends and simplify studies so you can share them with your patients. These posts can also be shared in newsletters or to enhance your social media presence. Your favorite newspaper or university may also have a twitter account via which they share health news and studies.
As a clinician, getting involved in public health initiatives can be a great way to give back to your community. Whether you help out with a pop-up clinic, volunteer to speak at a school or help to develop tools that are targeted to your community, you can leverage your expertise to make a difference in a much wider setting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers this collection of resources to help you integrate primary care and public health.
How do you incorporate data on public health trends into your practice? Comment below! Check back next week for a look at some emerging public health trends and initiatives happening around the country in nutrition.