The health system is any system that has a purpose related to health, which includes health care, population and public health.
A common definition of Public Health is that it aims to promote and improve the health of all people and to prevent injury, disability, disease and premature death. Public health is often described as being a science as well as an art. Often public health is used to describe the health of the public or health services and the healthcare system, other times it is used to describe knowledge and techniques.
Importantly public health looks beyond individuals. It is not concerned with individual behaviour change, rather it seeks to develop conditions to shift groups, communities and populations of people in the direction of good health.
Public health is concerned with the health of groups, communities and populations. Sometimes, the term is confused with population health. Public health uses population data to understand patterns health, ill-health, disease, disability and health-related behaviours, as well as the patterns of determinants. It applies population health approaches to improve health outcomes. But public health goes further to consider what “we as a society do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy.”
There is likely to always be a debate about our choice of terminology but what we seem to be able to agree on is that public health involves concerted action to improve the health of the population as a whole, that our work is in the general public’s interest and that there needs to be a focus on the broader determinants of health.
- Application of systems thinking in public health
In recent years, there has been growing interest in the application of systems thinking to public health; and systems thinking and systems methods are identified as a key requisite capacity and capability of public health practitioners of the future (Erwin & Brownson 2017). Like the concept of systems thinking more broadly, there are many different perspectives and interpretations about what systems thinking in public health are. There are three main ways systems thinking has been used in public health, which include:
- Working across different systems to improve health
- Recognising settings where health promotion takes place are ecological systems
- Using theory, tools and practices from other disciplines and applying to health to better understand complex problems and how to respond to them.