Category Archives: Public Health Informatics
How do you meet the needs of a teenager who’s been suspended from school, has suicidal tendencies and has a mother with drug problems? How about a non-English speaking woman with tuberculosis, preschool-aged children, unstable housing and potential domestic violence issues? Or a homeless man with diabetes? In most cases, the social services that address needs like this – public housing, food stamps, temporary cash assistance – are silo-ed from each other and from health and public health services by funding streams, staff divisions and a lack of communication. Efforts to make health and human services work together take a whole-person approach to delivering care – and it takes a village.
The Public Health Informatics 2011 Conference included a session on how local health departments are working to advance the continuum of care by connecting public health, health care and social services. Social services provide basic needs – housing, affordable healthy food – that have a big impact on health, yet these systems often don't work together to support the end user. NewPublicHealth is on the ground with Public Health Informatics conference coverage this week .
Getting Health and Social Services Systems to “Talk” to Each Other
Daniel Stein, Stewards of Change cofounder, talked about the challenges of getting human services, health care and public health to “talk” to one another when they’re spread out across different systems, programs and agencies that all have different architectures, funding streams and approaches to problems.
Interoperability is the key, said Stein. What’s interoperability? Stein said just think of Expedia or Travelocity. These sites represent interoperability in action – pulling from varied systems with different databases and architectures, finding common terminologies to integrate them, and offering a single, usable interface where all of the information can be used at once.
Today the Public Health Informatics Conference 2011, co-sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), kicks off in Atlanta, GA. NewPublicHealth will be on the ground with live conference coverage. This morning the opening plenary session featured an energized, inspiring group of speakers, who emphasized that collaboration – with support from (but not driven by) health information technology – is the key to moving public health forward.
Seth Foldy, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the Public Health Informatics and Technology Program Office at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), urged the crowd to think first about, “what exactly are we trying to do with our technology – instead of what is the coolest technology we can do it with?”
Dr. Foldy acknowledged the challenges public health informatics is up against, including a shrinking and aging workforce that must tackle a bigger job than ever before. "We’ll need to do more with less – in our ability to train, to reach the public with direct services, and deliver the environmental services needed to protect the public from disease," said Dr. Foldy.
Despite the challenges, the 2011 conference comes at a time when opportunity is great. The opportunities Dr. Foldy espoused are to enable a far more close, real-time relationship (driven by data and decision support) between public health and clinical care. Dr. Foldy said, "We can create a health system that for the first time is incentivized by preventing disease and injury rather than just treating it."
In the summer of 2011, nearly 800 public health and informatics professionals from across the country convened in Atlanta for the Public Health Informatics 2011 conference.
Around the conference, NewPublicHealth spoke with Farzad Mostashari, M.D., S.c.M., Director of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to get his perspective on how health information technology can impact public health, and how the public health informatics field is evolving.
NewPublicHealth: The Public Health Informatics Conference is coming up this month. For those who aren't familiar with the field, what exactly is public health informatics?
Dr. Mostashari: I think that I’m a little bit of a student of public health informatics myself, and an avid follower. In the early days it was about building better systems – disease surveillance and outbreak detection systems. The second phase was building the connection between those systems and clinical systems, and using clinical information systems as primary data sources for public health. The third stage is about how public health informatics systems can embed within them a public health consciousness. I think about having a Tom Frieden [Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] on the left shoulder of every physician to help inform clinical decisions from a public health perspective, as enabled by health information technology.
NPH: What is the role of the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) in advancing public health informatics?