Category Archives: Research
A constant theme of this year’s Keeneland Conference is the emergence of the discipline of public health systems and services research (PHSSR) from strict research and evaluation to results that are beginning to be used by public health departments and agencies. So who better a dinner speaker than Joe Selby, MD, MPH, head of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), authorized by Congress under the Affordable Care Act. PCORI’s role is to conduct research and provide information about the best available evidence to help patients and health care providers make more informed decisions. The Institute's goals include:
- Substantially increase the quantity, quality, and timeliness of useful, trustworthy information available to support health decisions.
- Speed the implementation of patient-centered knowledge into practice.
- Influence clinical and health care research funded by others to be more patient-centered.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Selby about PCORI’s work so far and the critical goal of disseminating scientific research to improve health.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about your talk at the Keeneland Conference.
Dr. Selby: I’ll start by talking about the historical trends that led to PCORI’s formation. I think that these trends are bringing what we do, which is called comparative clinical effectiveness research, together with quality improvement and with public health systems and services research. There is a convergence of interests between what the conference attendees do as public health practitioners and public health researchers and systems-based researchers and what the quality improvement world is doing and what we’re trying to do at PCORI. There are many common bonds and a new appreciation for that.
It has suddenly dawned on everyone that you’ve got to put your patients or, in the case of public health, your communities, at the center of the research activity. And I know that in the public health world, they are involving communities and patients within communities and clients and consumers in their planning and intervention activities. That is one of the bonds that ties us together and that leads to enhanced productivity whether we’re doing clinical research like PCORI does, whether we’re doing quality improvement, or whether we’re doing public health.
Later today Lisa Simpson, MB, BCh, MPH, president and CEO of AcademyHealth, will moderate a “Washington Update” panel discussion at the sixth annual Keeneland Conference taking place this week in Lexington, Ky. The discussion will focus on issues to watch at the federal level and panelists include Paul Jarris, MD, MBA, Executive Director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of Trust for America's Health; and Robert Pestronk, MPH, Executive Director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Simpson ahead of the session.
NewPublicHealth: What will your “Washington Update” focus on?
Dr. Simpson: I have the good fortune of moderating a discussion with three important leaders from Washington—Jeff Levi, Paul Jarris and Bobby Pestronk—and we’ll be bringing an update about what is going on in Washington that affects the field of public health and public health services research (PHSR) specifically. We’re going to be talking about the general policy context and the conversation in Washington in terms of budget and priority and tradeoff, but also talking about how we think public health services research is informing the conversation and the kinds of questions that policymakers have.
NPH: How has public health services research evolved in the last few years in terms of informing the conversation?
The new issue of Frontiers in Public Health Services and Systems Research (PHSSR), an online journal that looks at early research on issues related to public health services and delivery, focuses on quality improvement in practice-based research networks.
This issue’s commentary, from the journal’s editor, Glen Mays, PhD, MPH, is about a series of studies sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that look at how public health decision-makers are responding to accreditation, quality improvement, and public reporting initiatives during ongoing fiscal problems. Mays is co-principal Investigator of the National Coordinating Center on PHSSR, 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. Mays says that, overall, the current evidence shows that “these initiatives represent promising strategies for strengthening evidence-based decision-making and expanding the delivery of evidence-tested programs and policies in local public health settings.”
Mays adds that continued comparative research and evaluation activities are needed to provide more definitive evidence about which combination of strategies work best, for which population groups, in which community and organizational settings, and why.
Public Health Law Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation housed at the Temple University Beasley School of Law, recently released a new, comprehensive online portal called LawAtlas that allows users to explore variation in laws across U.S. states and over time. Having more information about state laws, and their effect on health over time, is a critical step toward understanding what works to improve health. LawAtlas offers:
- Interactive Law Maps to show how certain laws differ by state and how they have changed over time.
- Policy Surveillance Reports to summarize the state of various public health laws across the country
- Data that public health law researchers can work with to expand upon existing research
NewPublicHealth caught up with Damika Webb, JD, Law Fellow at the Center for Health Law Policy and Practice at Temple University, at last week’s APHA Annual Meeting to chat about LawAtlas and how it can be used to better understand why policy surveillance is critical, and what we can learn from a program like LawAtlas.
NewPublicHealth: Why is it important to conduct research to know whether particular laws and policies are working to improve public health?
Damika Webb: By measuring the dimensions of a law, you can figure out which components of the law are having a positive or negative effect on health outcomes.
NPH: Why is it important to track how public health laws and policies differ from state to state?
While the syringe has often been the visual image most closely associated with public health, in just a short time the cell phone could be the go-to icon.The Yale School of Public Health has announced a novel, two-year clinical trialthat will use participants’ cell phones, and the text messages those cell phones transmit, to develop mobile phone-based health interventions that target specific peer groups. The trial is being funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The participants in this first trial are young men ages 18 to 25 who have agreed to allow their cell phones to be tracked by Yale researchers. Each participant’s physical location will be tracked through global positioning systems, and a computer program will register all incoming and outgoing calls and text messages, which will not be shared outside the trial. The clinical trial will have three social networks which will each start with a single person and then recruit his friends, and then their friends, until each of the three groups has 40 active members. The researchers are specifically looking for text messages that relate to sexually transmitted diseases and substance abuse.
“Cell phones have made it easier to maintain and develop network ties,” says Trace Kershaw, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, and leader of the trial. “The nature of how this communication flows and how it relates to network characteristics and risk within networks will allow us to develop communication technology-delivered peer interventions by suggesting the most effective modes, frequency and patterns of information delivery.”
>>Bonus Link: Read about a smartphone-based trial being run by Asthmapolis, a Madison, Wisc., company that is using sensor-enhanced smart phones to help better understand when and where people with asthma develop symptoms.
>>Weigh In: What novels efforts is your community, company or research group using to collect or disseminate public health information?
At the Health Data Initiative III: The Health Datapalooza this summer, which looked at the role health data plays in transforming health and health care, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced the three winners of an app challenge calling for developers to create applications that would allow consumers to easily access and make use of comparative information about the quality of care provided in various regions of the country. The data behind the apps came from Aligning Forces for Quality, the Foundation’s initiative to improve the quality of health care in 16 targeted communities.
John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, senior vice president and director of the Health Care Group at RWJF, presented the awards to the top three winners of the challenge. Recently, NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Lumpkin about the explosion of health care data, and how to find the strongest data and use it well.
NewPublicHealth: Quantities of health data are increasing at a speedy clip. What kind of challenge does that pose in order to make sense of the numbers?
Dr. Lumpkin: In a single day there are over 300 million photos that are being posted on Facebook, and 3.2 billion likes and comments. We have 115,000 people participating in web sites such as Patients Like Me and about 9 million tweets each day. So we have all this data, but how do we access it in ways that make it meaningful? Kerr White, MD, the chairman for the U.S. National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics once said: “With the advent of new technology, data can be collected in any format, aggregated by the computer and arrayed in any desired output…untouched by human thought.” And so our challenge is to present it in a way that we actually have it touched by human thought.
Some good examples of this would include the County Health Rankings and the Aligning Forces for Quality Initiative where we have coalitions of consumers, purchasers and providers who, through public reporting of quality and price information and consumer engagement, we encourage to adopt quality improvement methods and use the data in ways that move that process forward.
NPH: Does everyone mean the same thing when they talk about “evidence-based” data?
Social media has been hyped for everything from communicating during emergencies to tracking the spread of the flu. So how are state health departments using such tools as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter? That was the subject of a presentation at the recent Public Health Systems Research Interest Group meeting that followed the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting last week.
In an unfunded study, Jenine Harris and Doneisha Snider of Washington University in St. Louis looked at how widely Facebook and Twitter are used by state health departments. Harris pointed out that social media can augment the resources health departments have to communicate with the public and “have the potential to diffuse information quickly.” Harris added that health departments can use social media to communicate with each other about new information, best practices and lessons learned in addition to communicating with the public.
Researchers shared stats on state health department social media presence so far:
- 28 have a Facebook page
- 41 have a Twitter feed
- 37 state health departments were following each other on Twitter
- 24 state health departments had friended each other on Facebook
- On average, state health department Facebook pages have 993 friends
- The average number of Twitter followers for a state health department is 1,340
- State health departments are actively using their Facebook and Twitter accounts; thirty-six health departments had tweeted within the last week and 24 had posted on Facebook
Harris says content for the tweets and Facebook posts primarily includes prevention (such as immunization, nutrition and smoking cessation information) and operations (hours of operations, job openings). Tweets were mostly aimed at the general public.
Harris offered some recommendations on how state health departments could potentially use Facebook and Twitter to communicate with each other to share best practices. However, she says there is much left to learn about the potential of social media for public health practice and how to use this new tool most effectively.
For more detailed analyses, look for Harris’s article, “The network of Web 2.0 connections among state health departments: New pathways for dissemination,” which is forthcoming in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. Harris and her colleagues also plan to examine social media use in local health departments.
>>Catch up on what you may have missed at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting.
We’ll never know if it was the spirited discussions or Tropical Storm Debby, which is pummeling northern and central Florida, that kept most of the 2,000-plus attendees at this year’s AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting—this year in Orlando—indoors and packed into the sessions and the exhibit hall at just about every minute of the meeting this year. Public Health was a featured topic, according to AcademyHealth president and CEO Lisa Simpson, and a session on the IOM report on the integration of public health and primary care, led by the committee chair, Paul Wallace, MD, was a featured, and well-attended, session as well.
Not surprisingly, many public health officials made their way into a ballroom very early Tuesday morning to hear three health law scholars, Sara Rosenbaum of the George Washington University, Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee and Mark Hall of Wake Forest, talk about the issues likely contemplated by the Supreme Court Justices as they considered the cases brought against the Affordable Care Act. Critical for public health were the discussion points aired just before the session ended, concerned with continued state and federal budget cuts including cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other divisions of the Department of Health and Human Services, which could impact public health service delivery now underway, as well as implementation of the Affordable Care Act, if it is upheld.
Health disparities were also a focus of several sessions, as well as the topic that won the student poster award of the conference. Stephen Vance, a fourth-year medical student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, won the best student poster award for his work with Aida Lugo-Somolinos, MD, of the medical school, on clinical trial enrollment barriers faced by the Hispanic population in North Carolina. Vance’s research found that the barriers identified by the Hispanic participants in the study differ from those expected by clinical investigators.
The study provided a questionnaire for physicians on their perceptions of why more members of the Hispanic community don’t enroll in clinical trials, and also collected patient questionnaires on trial participation from close to 400 members of the Hispanic community.
The physician responses showed that they viewed language and transportation as the key barriers. But the patient responses showed other concerns including worries about what participating might cost them, concern about missed work time and a lack of understanding about the potential benefits of trial participation, including access to health care. The researchers say the following should be considered as a means to enroll more members of Hispanic communities in trials:
- Provide information about studies to health care providers in areas with large Hispanic populations
- In large cities, create partnerships with Hispanic advocacy groups
- Communicate that trial participation is not necessarily costly and may take no more time than a regular doctor’s appointment
- Include a person fluent in Spanish on the research team
“Before this study, I would have thought that transportation and language were the key barriers,” says Vance. “It’s really a lack of understanding of what a clinical research project entails.”
“Perhaps as clinicians, we’re asking the wrong questions,” says Vance, who is on track to get an MBA as well as his MD degree, and plans to go into health management. “This study focuses on the Hispanic community, but should push us to look at the reasons why other groups are underrepresented in trials.”
Frontiers in Public Health Services & Systems Research: Making Critical Research Accessible, Quickly
Idea Gallery is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth in which guest authors provide their perspective on issues affecting public health. Today, Glen Mays, MPH, PhD, F. Douglas Scutchfield Endowed Professor of Health Services and Systems Research at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, talks about the launch of a brand new online journal covering public health systems and services research, and why it is so critical right now, to inform smart investments in public health and prevention. The new journal, Frontiers in PHSSR, is designed to disseminate the most critical early findings from PHSSR research much faster—making these findings accessible far in advance of the fully-developed scientific manuscript. To be eligible for inclusion in Frontiers, findings must have the potential to guide future public health practice, health policy, and research. Mays is the editor in chief of the new journal.
Portions of the post below are adapted from the opening commentary in Frontiers, authored by Mays, F. Douglas Scutchfield, Paul K. Halverson, William Riley and Peggy Honore.
The need for a strong and effective public health system in the United States is perhaps more urgent today than at any other time in our nation’s history. Preventable diseases and injuries account for more than three-fourths of the $2.6 trillion in health care expenditures incurred annually in the U.S. The growing prevalence of obesity, diabetes and other preventable conditions constrains the nation’s economic productivity and global competitiveness. The American public health system—the diffuse constellation of governmental public health agencies and their peers and partners in community-based settings and the private sector—is tasked with developing and delivering strategies that promote health and prevent disease and injury on a population-wide basis. They share the mission of creating conditions in which people can be healthy.
The public health system is uniquely positioned—but not optimally equipped or resourced—to take on these challenges. Only about 3 percent of the nation’s $2.6 trillion in annual health expenditures is devoted to public health activities. Some of our greatest uncertainties now lie in how best to organize, finance, and deliver effective public health prevention strategies to communities across the U.S. The field of public health services and systems research (PHSSR) has emerged to fill this void.
Frontiers in PHSSR
The American public health system and the populations it serves do not have the luxury of waiting the 15 years typically required to get research-tested solutions widely adopted into practice. The costs associated with missed opportunities for disease prevention and health promotion are straining government and household budgets now.
To help develop and grow this scientific learning community, we have launched a new, open-access, peer-reviewed journal, Frontiers in Public Health Services and Systems Research. This journal provides a platform for rapidly and widely communicating emerging findings and lessons learned from studies of public health services and delivery systems. Frontiers will feature brief descriptions of preliminary findings from ongoing or recently completed empirical studies and quality improvement projects that answer important questions regarding the organization, financing, and delivery of public health services.
Debra Joy Pérez, MA, MPA, PhD, assistant vice president for Research and Evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was a keynote speaker at the Keeneland Conference yesterday and spoke about the evolution of public health services and systems research (PHSSR). NewPublicHealth asked Debra Pérez about that evolution.
>>Follow our continuing coverage of the Keeneland Conference.
NPH: Why is the field of PHSSR a priority for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation?
Debra Pérez: Right now, I think more than ever we need evidence to provide decision-makers with the evidence for how best to apply limited resources. We know in the last year alone over 40,000 public health jobs were eliminated, so that means that health departments are struggling with staffing and infrastructure issues, and they need evidence to help them best apply the limited resources they have now.
NewPublicHealth: What’s the scope of the conference this year compared to previous years?