To improve health services in New Jersey, the commissioner of the state health department will seek national accreditation.

Accreditation takes a year at minimum and is based on a combination of national standards and state-level plans for the health department. Two states have been accredited since the program was launched in 2011. Eighteen are seeking accreditation.

New Jersey's plan focuses on birth outcomes, childhood immunization, obesity and heart disease.

"We have embedded within the culture of our organization a commitment to continuous quality improvement which includes the training of staff, the use of data driven measures for identifying how we're improving our processes," said Commissioner Mary O'Dowd.

David Knowlton, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said he is proud of O'Dowd.

"New Jersey has had accountability measures for decades. Previous approaches to that have been more reporting the number of activities they do, rather than looking at systems and changes to systems," he said. "I think what Commissioner O'Dowd has started to say is, 'How can we make systems better, what's changing in the overall system?'"

The accreditation process helps state health departments set priorities, improve community engagement and seek external review, said Kaye Bender, president and CEO of the public health accreditation board in Alexandria, Virginia.

"It's a risk for health departments to do this. But every health department that has done it and increased accreditation has said that transparency and accountability -- the whole notion of good government, if you will, has been the No. 1 benefit," she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute of Medicine recently identified accreditation as an important strategy for improving public health in the United States.