Mar 5 2013
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NewPublicHealth Q&A: Glen Mays With a Look Ahead to Keeneland

Glen Mays, National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research

Each year hundreds of public health researchers and practitioners meet to share research and translation strategies at the annual Keeneland Conference in Lexington, Ky. The conference, which will be held this year April 8-11, is sponsored by the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research, based at the University of Kentucky. This year’s keynote speakers include Paul Kuehnert, MS, RN, senior program officer and director for the Public Health team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Lisa Simpson, president and CEO of AcademyHealth; and Joe V. Selby, MD, MPH, the first executive director of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute authorized by Congress.

>>Registration for the Keeneland Conference closes March 7. Find Registration information here.

As registration for the conference winds down, and with a new issue of the Center’s online journal—Frontiers in Public Health Services and Systems Research (PHSSR)—recently published, NewPublicHealth spoke with Glen Mays, PhD, MPH, Co-principal Investigator of the National Coordinating Center, Director of the Public Health Practice-Based Research Networks and the F. Douglas Scutchfield Endowed Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health. 

NewPublicHealth: The annual Keeneland Conference focusing on Public Health Systems and Services Research is just a few weeks away. What are the key themes of this year’s meeting?

Dr. Mays: I think one overarching theme that you’re going to hear a lot about at the Keeneland Conference this year is about the transformation of public health practice in a variety of ways. Researchers will be presenting studies looking at what’s happening in the field of reorganizing public health delivery and some of the early effects of those reorganization efforts. Those include consolidation of health departments and states that are testing various models of regionalizing public health services.

NPH: Do you expect that theme to be prominent in the hallway conversations among conference participants as well?

Dr. Mays: I do think so—there are some early findings about changes in public health service and delivery and guidance for how to navigate the next couple of years. These years are going to be full of change. We’ll be thinking about changes in federal financing for public health. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, but for sure, we’re going to see some significant changes with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which kicks in 2014, and understanding public health system roles in that.

NPH:  In the newest issue of the journal Frontiers in PHSSR, you have written a commentary titled “Learning By Doing For Public Health Improvement.” What was the focus of the commentary?

Dr. Mays: That commentary was about reflecting back, and reminding ourselves about the overall purpose of this field of inquiry as an applied field of research. A lot of the scientific learning that we are doing, is learning from things that are happening in practice, learning from the experiences as innovations are being implemented in practice, and taking advantage of that. And so, part of the commentary was just to remind ourselves of that. That’s the power of PHSSR, and I think that’s illustrated in some of the articles that are included in the current issue.

One example is an article on looking at the innovation of building in workplace incentives for wellness and health promotion and learning how the general public perceives those incentives and penalties. Another is Sara Rosenbaum’s piece on hospital community benefit. A significant part of the Affordable Care Act is being more deliberate about measuring hospital contributions to public health and community health improvement and understanding the incentives behind that. Sara’s article looks at the measurement and reporting of hospital community benefit activities under state policies versus the new requirements under the Affordable Care Act. I think that’s another resource for learning by doing—learning about hospital contributions to the public health system and making use of that knowledge to go forward.

NPH: Has the Keeneland Conference moved from early stage research to research that can really be disseminated into the community fairly quickly?

Dr. Mays: Absolutely. I think we’re being very deliberate about looking for those opportunities and about cultivating research that’s ready to really do that and make that leap into translation. I think a good example in the current issue of Frontiers is certainly the one by Jennie Harris that examines patterns and characteristics associated with social media adoption in state health departments across the U.S. This is a technology that has evolved rapidly and we’re seeing a lot of experimentation, a lot of innovation in the field about how to use that technology both to communicate among public health professionals across the system but also how to communicate more effectively and mobilize the public and other stakeholders around public health issues.

NPH: And your second commentary was on models of dissemination and implementation in public health.

Dr. Mays: That was a commentary response to another great piece that took a look at the existing research on how to do dissemination and implementation for practice. A lot of those models have actually been developed in other fields, certainly in the field of health services research and in clinical medical research—how to adopt innovations and disseminate them in the medical practice with like new drugs or new devices or new surgical techniques. And so the commentary is really thinking about how can we take those models and apply them to the world of public health practice to help us do a better job. I think we’re starting to be smarter as a field in how to use those models, but I also think there are some important differences in the public health context that I think really makes us have to think carefully about how to adapt and apply those existing models. I think, in many ways, the public health field of practice can be a bit more complex than medical practice, for example. There are political issues, there are legal issues at play that maybe sometimes impose constraints on how much change we can see in public health practice. So as a field, I think we’re still fairly early on in learning how to adapt and apply these dissemination and implementation models, but I think we’re making good progress, and that article is definitely a useful resource to think about that.

NPH: The fourth issue of Frontiers has just been published. What are you hearing from practitioners and from academics about the journal?

Dr. Mays: One of the most frequent signals of feedback that we’ve gotten is the positive response from being able to get these early findings out faster to our stakeholders in practice and policy and to our colleagues in research much faster than our traditional vehicles, our traditional peer review journals.

[Read an Idea Gallery post by Glen Mays on NewPublicHealth about the ideology and method behind Frontiers in PHSSR]

And, in fact, people want more. Can we do it even faster? And so we’re also learning by doing and trying to continually look for innovations and help us do a better job of being faster and being able to get this knowledge out into practice. So, I think we’ve seen a very good response, just an enormous growth over time in the number of subscribers, in the number of downloads, those kinds of things. We’re still quite young as a journal, but we’ve been very pleased with the response. I think we’re continuing to grow. We’re getting a lot of submissions as well. So the research community is also really responding to this as a vehicle for getting their work out much faster, and so we’re just going to continue to try to ride this and learn from this experience.

>>Registration for the Keeneland Conference closes March 7. Find Registration information here.