“Digital solutions could help”
What are the responsibilities of a public health department – and what has the pandemic changed? Oliver Piehl from Tübingen takes us behind the scenes.
Dr Piehl, what are the responsibilities of a public health department?
Our responsibilities are varied, but can be roughly divided into three areas: health protection and infection control, children’s and young people’s health services as well as health protection and disease prevention, which includes HIV counselling, for example.
At present, of course, the corona pandemic is taking up a major part of our work in health protection and infection control, which, however, also includes monitoring of other infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, as well as hygiene inspections of hospitals and medical practices and the monitoring of drinking water and bathing water.
In the field of children’s and young people’s health services, for example, we investigate whether children have any special needs and initiate relevant support before they start school. This also gives us greater insights into families. As a result, when doubts arise we can identify cases where children need special protection.
How has your work changed since the corona pandemic began?
Almost all our employees have had to concentrate on overcoming the pandemic since March 2020. We have received support from the Bundeswehr, so-called containment scouts and medical students to identify chains of infection more rapidly. Furthermore, we have employed additional doctors and redeployed other employees from the district administration to cope with the workload. When it comes to tracing contacts of people who have been infected with coronavirus, we clarify where they have been and when and with whom they had contact. We then identify these contacts so that the relevant authority can mandate quarantine. Lots of staff are required to make this strategy successful. As a result, many tasks are currently being left undone, because we are no longer able to carry them out or can only perform them in much reduced form. Digital solutions could help us speed up contact tracing, but unfortunately they have not yet been implemented. It is therefore really good to see that the team is holding up and doing its best despite all the pressure.
What were your reasons as a doctor to work for a public health department?
I find it attractive that my work here covers a very wide range of medical matters and at the same time also involves social issues. We have a connection with the local population, with ordinary citizens. Unlike in a clinic or in medical practice, we do not focus on the diagnosis and treatment of individual cases, but take a broader perspective covering the whole population. It is fascinating how we can achieve a great deal with preventive medicine and health promotion, even if that is not always easy to measure.
Dr Oliver Piehl is a doctor at the Tübingen Public Health Department and a specialist in public healthcare. Within the Tübingen Public Health Department he is deputy director and the person responsible for health protection and infection control.
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