Health has many facets, and laws and regulations are important in protecting and promoting the public’s health. Among these duties are ensuring adequate public health infrastructure in communities, preventing the spread of communicable diseases, protecting the environment from health hazards, and preparing for emergencies. Some of the most important laws for health care organizations regulate their practices, while others are focused on specific health issues, such as the privacy and security of patient health records.
Infrastructure statutes specify how public health agencies should be run, and define their authority and mission. Intersectoral and interventional laws aim to modify the environment and physical activity of communities in a way that improves health and reduces health risks. Both types of laws can be used by non-health agencies. However, they have important differences and are not suited for every area of public health. For example, infrastructure statutes generally specify how health agencies can function and what they can and cannot do.
Public health laws generally draw their authority from a variety of sources, including state constitutions, statutes, executive orders, and court decisions. In some countries, the laws are governed by the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco, human drugs, and devices. They may also regulate foods not regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But merely having legal authority does not guarantee improved public health.