As Keck, Scutchfield, and Holsinger phrase it, “public health is no longer in the position of being the only major health profession without a process to …. accredit its agencies.” But how and why has public health accreditation arisen, and how might it contribute to improving the public’s health?
The Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) “is dedicated to advancing public health department performance” by helping them “assess their current capacity and guide them to continuously improve the quality of their services, thus promoting a healthier public.” Incorporated in 2007, PHAB partners with the American Public Health Association, the Association of County and City Health Officials, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the National Association of Local Boards of Health, the National Indian Health Board, the National Network of Public Health Institutes, and the Public Health Foundation in assuring health departments meet national standards and measures of minimum performance.
Assisted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Multistate Learning Collaborative, health departments are guided through seven steps of accreditation: pre-application, application, documentation selection and submission, site visit, accreditation decision, reports, and reaccreditation.
Though public health accreditation in the US is so new as to lack empirical validation as a community health improving tool, there are 4 claimed benefits to accreditation: 1) high performance and quality improvement; 2) recognition, validation, and accountability; 3) improved communication and collaboration; and 4) potential increased access to resources. The degree to which these claims are true has yet to be determined, but the promise and potential for accreditation to have diffuse benefits for the populations served by accredited public health departments is enticing.