“Frankly, public health and health care systems don’t know that much about each other.”

The words of Andrew Rein, associate director for policy at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identified a chief talking point Tuesday at AcademyHealth’s National Health Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., in light of key provisions in the Affordable Care Act. Panelists, including Rein and Natasha Coulouris, senior public health advisor at the Health Resources and Services Administration, discussed opportunities for improving population health — and challenges that must be overcome.

Both discussed return on investment, or ROI, and their agencies’ priorities to integrate primary care and public health. Rein said that CDC aims to combine the health approaches in “three big buckets,” including:

  • data and measures: translating up-to-date research into practice, such as the Department of Health and Human Services-driven “Million Hearts” initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years;
  • services: determining the highest-value public health services, such as the National Diabetes Prevention Program that offers to communities 16-week, lifestyle-change programs to reduce diabetes incidence; and
  • upstream drivers: using appropriate ROI data to guide laws and policies.

“We can’t do everything, but what specific programs do we focus on? What are the best drivers of ROI? And let’s be real about it,” Rein said.

Return on investment and public health serve as the theme of this year’s National Public Health Week. “Public Health Is ROI: Save Lives, Save Money” will be celebrated April 1-7.