Reducing Chronic Diseases In Georgia
This week I sat down with Dr. Jean O’Connor of the Georgia Department of Public Health to talk about efforts to reduce occurrence of numerous chronic diseases in Georgia. Chronic diseases – such as asthma, cancer, diabetes and heart disease – cost Georgia approximately $40 billion dollars each year, contribute to increased absenteeism among students and employees, increase health care costs for Georgia employers, and result in more than 200,000 thousands of years of life lost. Chronic diseases in Georgia are preventable and controllable.
Through better nutrition, increased physical activity, eliminating tobacco use and providing access to high quality health care delivery practices, Georgia can improve population health, support better educational outcomes and economic development, and improve the quality of life for the state’s families and communities. Physicians and other health care providers can use a common risk factor approach to control chronic disease in Georgia by encouraging behavior change, providing guidelines-based care and creating healthier communities.
Specifically, physicians can implement three overarching strategies into their patient care protocols to identify, control and prevent chronic diseases:
1. Use the 5As to address tobacco use with patients – ask, advise, assess, assist, arrange
2. Recommend physical activity and healthy eating using the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines
3. Utilize electronic health records (EHR) technology to quickly identify potential cases of undiagnosed
hypertension and diabetes to rescreen and monitor those patients regularly
The Georgia Department of Public Health provides resources and tools to support providers interested in engaging in these best practices.
Jean O’Connor, JD, MPH, DrPH, is the Chronic Disease Prevention Director at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). Since joining the agency in 2013, Dr. O’Connor has held responsibility for developing and managing statewide public health programs related to cancer screening and treatment, heart disease, diabetes, tobacco use prevention, adolescent health, nutrition, physical activity and asthma.
She also serves as the principal investigator on chronic disease-related federal cooperative agreements that provide funding, technical assistance and evaluation to Georgia health systems, local health departments and other partner organizations. In subsequent years, Dr. O’Connor served as a state deputy health director; a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and a health policy advisor.
For the past 12 years, she has also taught public health law and policy as an affiliate professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. Dr. O’Connor earned her Juris Doctor and Master of Public Health degrees from Emory University, and a Doctor of Public Health degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a member of the State Bar of Georgia and serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD).
Dr. Jean O’Connor, JD, Chronic Disease Prevention Director, Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH)