What is public health?

Public health works, many times behind the scenes, to help everyone stay healthy and protect them from threats to their health.

The goal: Improve health outcomes for all populations whether it’s to keep them from getting sick or injured in the first place, or promoting and encouraging healthy behaviors.


Public health services are usually preventive instead of reactive which means they often go unnoticed. Still, the services DHHS provides play an important role in making sure people stay healthy and safe. 

Utah should be a place where all people can enjoy the best health possible, where all can live and thrive in healthy and safe communities. We coordinate with 13 local health departments across the state to detect preventable outbreaks of infectious diseases, develop programs to promote healthy and safe behaviors, prepare our citizens for man-made and natural disasters, and to provide access to healthcare services across the state.

The 10 essential public health services

An outline for public health to protect and promote the health of all people in all communities

To make sure everyone can get the same  services, the essential public health services actively promote policies, systems, and overall community conditions to enable the best health for everyone. They also work to remove barriers that result in health inequities. Everyone should have the same chance to reach their best health and well-being.

1. Assess and monitor population health

This is accomplished through surveillance—the collection, analysis, and interpretation of health-related data—which helps DHHS:

  • Identify threats to health and evaluate what services are needed
  • Collect, analyze, and publish information on access, use, costs, and outcomes of those health services
  • Pay special attention to the vital statistics and health status of specific groups who are at higher risk than the rest of population
  • Work with private providers and health benefit plans to manage integrated information systems

2. Investigate, diagnose, and address health problems

This service means we think about health problems and hazards and figure out the best way to deal with them.

  • Epidemiology looks for emerging health threats
  • Our public health laboratory uses modern technology to conduct rapid screening and test a lot of samples
  • We Investigate disease outbreaks and look for patterns of chronic disease and injury

3. Communicate effectively to inform and educate

This means we use social media and public communication to provide information you need to know.

  • We have a toll free information line where people can call to be directed to health information
  • Whenever possible, we offer health information resources in communities, such as free mobile health screenings
  • We work with health care providers and give them messages and information to pass along to their patients

4. Strengthen, support, and mobilize communities and partnerships to improve health

This means we work together with professionals and others in the community to plan, launch, monitor, evaluate, make changes in activities when necessary, and repeat the process.

  • Work with community groups and associations to provide preventive, screening, rehabilitation, and support programs
  • Build coalitions to take advantage of all possible resources

5. Create, champion, and implement policies, plans, and laws

This means we pay attention to how we spend our money so we can show progress toward positive change in health behavior or health status indicators. Data can be presented to policymakers to document how well a program works.

6.Use legal and regulatory actions to improve and protect the public’s health

This means we work with local health departments to make sure food served in restaurants is safe. We also make sure the statewide law that keeps people from smoking in a lot of places is enforced to improve the environmental health conditions in your community.

  • Establish rules to make sure food served in restaurants is safe
  • Let everyone know about the recommended immunizations for each age group to promote good health and safety
  • Establish rules to keep people from smoking in certain areas

7. Make sure everyone has the same access to individual services and care they need to be healthy

This means we work hard to get everyone into a coordinated system for clinical care and that includes culturally and linguistically appropriate materials and staff.

  • Provide targeted health information to high risk groups
  • Offer technical assistance for effective worksite health promotion/disease prevention programs

8. Build a diverse and skilled workforce

This means we educate and train personnel so we can meet the needs and demands for public health service.

  • Provide efficient processes to license professionals and certify of facilities with adequate follow-up
  • Adopt continuous quality improvement and life-long learning within all licensure and certification programs
  • Establish active partnerships with professional training programs to make sure  learning experiences are community-relevant for all student
  • Make sure those who are in administrative/executive roles receive education in management and leadership development programs

9. Improve and innovate through evaluation, research, and quality improvement

Evaluation helps us update and change program approaches to become more effective. Data also helps us know how much something costs and how much effort is involved in various tasks so we can make adjustments.

  • We use surveillance data from essential service #1 to look at the success of our health initiatives
  • We make adjustments once we learn how/what isn’t working as well as we had hoped.

 10. Build and maintain a strong organizational infrastructure for public health

DHHS works with higher education and research groups to make sure our public health infrastructure is strong and keeps growing.

  • A proven ability to react quickly to outbreak investigations
  • An internal capacity to conduct needed health services research (e.g., survey design; conduct interviews and facilitate focus groups; and access and use public records).