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J Public Health Policy. 2004;25(1):78-84.

Public health interactions with the public: can quality be assured? "This call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes".

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Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 30322, USA.


I describe what happened when a citizen called her state health department "after-hours" to report possible contamination of food at a commercial establishment. The call, inadequately handled by the health department, illustrates the need to assure quality of the public health responses to calls on a 24 hour, 7-day week basis. I examine possible reasons for the poor response. Health departments should consider training for those assigned to handle phone calls from the public, such as that provided to poison control center personnel. In addition, a quality assurance program should routinely assess the adequacy of public health responses. As medical care is available on an emergency basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, emergency services for prevention of illness in the population should be available to the public at all times with the response provided by appropriately trained individuals.

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