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Most medical specialties are defined by organ systems or treatment modalities; public health is defined by the legal authority to protect the health and safety of the community. Public health authority is usually vested in a local health officer. The health officer's authority extends to physicians' health services practices when they encounter conditions that threaten the public health. The internist who diagnoses salmonellosis in a patient, the emergency room physician who suspects that a child may have been abused, and the family practitioner who signs a death certificate wear the cloak of public health in these endeavors. Many physicians are unaware of these public health responsibilities. This chapter discusses the authority for public health practice and the nondisease control obligations of physicians. (Some of this material is adapted from Richards 1989.) [107]

[107]Richards EP: The jurisprudence of prevention: Society's right of self-defense against dangerous individuals. Hast Const L Q 1989:16; 329.

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