Definition and Overview

A public health follow-up is an evaluation of the current condition of public health and an assessment of a particular health risk. This becomes necessary when there are certain health risks discovered within a community. For example, a public health follow-up may become necessary when an individual in a community is diagnosed with a serious health disease (such as Ebola, for example) that may become a risk to the health of the general public. A different follow-up may be necessary for each particular risk and each specific situation.

The main goals here are to protect and improve the health of the entire community by providing a diagnosis and assessment of any health risk so that proper care and preventative measures can be applied. If a follow-up is not implemented in time, there is a possibility that a particular health risk may spread to the entire community.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

A public health follow-up can be conducted in any community when a certain health risk has been identified. Its immediate goal is to identify the risks, assess its extent, and prescribe care and rehabilitation measures to improve public health. In the process, all hospitals, doctors, and nurses within the community are informed about the risks and any testing and prescription guidelines so that individual cases can be properly handled, monitored, and recorded. As a result of the follow-up, recommendations on the surveillance, treatment, and prevention of specific health risks are set in place.

Public health follow-up is conducted when a certain community is at risk of:

  • Serious infectious diseases, such as AIDS/HIV, malaria, and cholera, among others
  • Chronic diseases, such as hepatitis
  • Bacterial contamination
  • Viral diseases, such as SARS, viral hemorrhagic fever, and many others
  • Hazardous materials, such as radioactive material
  • Animal bites, either domestic or wild animals
  • Arboviral disease, such as encephalitis and dengue

The need for these follow-up evaluations can be triggered by:

  • Outbreaks
  • New cases of infection
  • Events that release particular health hazards to the community

A public health follow-up can also be performed for any kind of medical illness to assess the prevalence of the said illness within a particular location or community within a specific period. For example, it can be used to compare the number of patients suffering from a specific disease within the community from year to year or to determine whether the number of existing cases increased or decreased over a one-year period.

How Does the Procedure Work?

The public health follow-up program is an integral part of public health maintenance in most communities. If a certain health risk is identified, the doctors and nurses who handled the case will report the said event to the proper authorities, and an entire process will be initiated. This involves:

  • Providing treatment and education to patients primarily affected by the health risk
  • Conducting more tests to determine the causes and other factors related to the risk/hazard
  • Identifying characteristics that are similar across all infected individuals to come up with hypothetical risk factors and identify more persons who are at risk
  • Screening all persons who have come into contact with the patient or the health hazard
  • Identifying outbreaks
  • Containing the infection or hazard
  • Setting into place immediate risk reduction and prevention strategies
  • Allocating public health resources, such as funding, to manage the risk/hazard
  • Reporting new cases or hazards to the national level

At the end of the follow-up, a report should be prepared to summarize the details of the risk or hazard. This risk assessment summary or case report plays an important role in disseminating information to all members of public health care. Its various components are:

  • Overview of the risk/hazard – This includes all important information about the disease or health hazards, such as mode of transmission, incubation period, infectious period, symptoms and warning signs, and risk factors.

  • Case report – This summarizes the rate and trend of infection/contamination.

  • Case definition – This determines the rate of confirmed cases and probable cases as well as enumerates the different types of infected cases.

  • Case management – This summarizes how each case is handled, from case and exposure investigation to isolation.

  • Contact management – This summarizes the identification of potential contacts (or people who came into contact with the infection/contamination) for assessment.

  • Laboratory testing – This highlights existing laboratory testing guidelines.

  • Surveillance management – This summarizes how existing cases of infection and contamination are identified and monitored.

  • Communications/data dissemination – This summarizes how new cases should be reported to public health officials.

  • Prevention activities – This highlights all preventative measures that are in place, such as vaccinations and outbreak control.

Possible Risks and Complications

Without a proper public health follow-up procedure in place, health risks and hazards can spread across a community faster because:

  • New cases are not reported and handled properly
  • Infections and hazards are not properly contained, thus increasing transmissions and heightening the risk of an outbreak
  • Doctors and nurses will not be sufficiently informed and educated about risks/hazards

A public health follow-up helps stress the importance of preventative measures and equips public health care providers on how to respond to each new health risk or infection. This way, the public can be protected from major health risks and hazards.

  • American Public Health Association
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