Integrating clinical and public health knowledge in support of joint medical practice

Jean-Pierre Unger, Ingrid Morales, Pierre De Paepe, Michel Roland

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    BackgroundStrong relations between medicine and public health have long been advocated. Today, professional medical practice assumes joint clinical/public health objectives: GPs are expected to practice community medicine;Hospital specialists can be involved in disease control and health service organisation;Doctors can teach, coach, evaluate, and coordinate care;Clinicians should interpret protocols with reference to clinical epidemiology.Public health physicians should tailor preventive medicine to individual health risks.This paper is targeted at those practitioners and academics responsible for their teams' professionalism and the accessibility of care, where the authors argue in favour of the epistemological integration of clinical medicine and public health.Main textBased on empirical evidence the authors revisit the epistemological border of clinical and public health knowledge to support joint practice. From action-research and cognitive psychology, we derive clinical/public health knowledge categories that require different transmission and discovery techniques.The knowledge needed to support the universal human right to access professional care bridges both clinical and public health concepts, and summons professional ethics to validate medical decisions. To provide a rational framework for teaching and research, we propose the following categories: 'Know-how/practice techniques', corresponding a.o. to behavioural, communication, and manual skills;'Procedural knowledge' to choose and apply procedures that meet explicit quality criteria;'Practical knowledge' to design new procedures and inform the design of established procedures in new contexts; andTheoretical knowledge teaches the reasoning and theory of knowledge and the laws of existence and functioning of reality to validate clinical and public health procedures.Even though medical interventions benefit from science, they are, in essence, professional: science cannot standardise eco-biopsychosocial decisions; doctor-patient negotiations; emotional intelligence; manual and behavioural skills; and resolution of ethical conflicts.ConclusionBecause the quality of care utilises the professionals' skill-base but is also affected by their intangible motivations, health systems should individually tailor continuing medical education and treat collective knowledge management as a priority. Teamwork and coaching by those with more experience provide such opportunities. In the future, physicians and health professionals could jointly develop clinical/public health integrated knowledge. To this end, governments should make provision to finance non-clinical activities.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number1073
    JournalBMC Health Services Research
    Number of pages12
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


    • Medical and public health practice
    • Health epistemology
    • Medical education
    • Medical research
    • Health management
    • Health policy


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