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Public Health Law Research’s (PHLR) LawAtlas is a comprehensive content management tool that enables users to track and analyze key laws aimed at improving health and access to health care. From interactive law maps to policy surveillance reports to “reams” of digital data, it offers an expansive view of how health and the law are intersecting throughout the country. In fact, LawAtlas just today released two new data sets, one on Child Restraint Systems and one on Dental Hygienist Scope of Practice Laws.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Scott Burris, Director of PHLR’s National Program Office, and Damika Barr, Legal Analyst and LawAtlas Manager, about what LawAtlas means for the public health community—and their hopes for its future.
NewPublicHealth: What are you learning about the value of LawAtlas to the public health and law communities?
Scott Burris: I think there are two things that people really like about this. One is getting law as data. So, we take law and it’s a bunch of words that people in health often don’t want to cope with or don’t really appreciate. It’s not what they do. We turn it into data that they understand, that they can use, that fits right into their broader lifestyle, as it were. Meeting the needs of people doing epidemiology and science, that’s one part of it. The other part is just a great demand to see law laid out in this geographical way so that everyone can see what states have what laws and how any particular policy is progressing across the states.
Damika Barr: We’re finding that this is eye opening because you can finally see the dimensions of the law across jurisdictions over time with your own eyes, and it’s really easier for our researchers or the public health law communities and providers to see the dimensions as compared to looking at a long table with many columns. Researchers can start to ask more detailed questions or about more dimensions of the law than they would have if they were just limited to a table.
NPH: We’ve seen a couple of the ways that LawAtlas is being used already, including the study by Hosea Harvey that looked at youth sports concussion laws. What are some other innovative ways you’re seeing LawAtlas being used in research?
Burris: I think it’s not so much “innovative ways" as what important things can LawAtlas show us? LawAtlas in itself was an innovation in that it allows people to more efficiently code the characteristics of the law and more easily publicize it, but what we’ve learned in recent research is how you can answer important questions with it.
The following post originally appeared on the Harvard Law School blog, Bill of Health, launched in September 2012 by Harvard's Petrie-Flom Center. The blog explores news, commentary, and scholarship in the fields of health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics. This post examines the policies that impact proper use of child car seats and booster seats.
Author Kathleen West is an intern with the Public Health Law Research program. Her summer work has included researching and creating a comprehensive dataset on child restraint systems across the United States using LawAtlas, a gateway database to key laws aimed at improving our health or access to health care. Read more on LawAtlas.
As the world watched Prince William place the new royal baby, reluctantly snug in his car seat, into a vehicle a few weeks ago, my thoughts were not limited to, “Oh, how cute!” After two months researching and collecting a dataset to capture the U.S. laws and regulations for child passenger restraint systems, I also thought, “I wonder if he took a class and knows how to do that correctly?” Perhaps an odd thought, but misuse and faulty installation of child restraint systems is actually a major concern.
According to the CDC, proper restraint use can reduce the risk of death or injury by more than 50 percent. Yet, ongoing studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are finding that as many as 20 percent of drivers with child passengers are not reading any of the instructions regarding proper installation, while 90 percent of drivers of child passengers are reporting that they are confident that they are properly installing and using child restraint systems.
While a growing number of major league sports teams have policies on concussion assessment and return to play, many youth and school sports leagues and teams do not have similar rules, despite thousands of sports-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) reported in children and adolescents every year.
Hosea H. Harvey, PhD, JD, Assistant Professor of Law in Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, has just published an article in the American Journal of Public Health analyzing how this health issue is being addressed across the country. He found that there are laws dealing with concussions in youth sports in 44 states and D.C.—but none are focused on preventing the injuries. The laws only address detecting the injuries or preventing an additional injury after one has already occurred.
The study also revealed that many laws don’t draw on evidence around what works. For example, most state laws establish a minimum 24-hour period of youth athlete removal, but there is no scientific agreement about the optimal minimal time someone who has suffered a sports-related TBI should be removed from play. The study utilized an open source dataset from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantee Public Health Law Research called LawAtlas.
>>Read the full study.
NewPublicHealth previously spoke with Harvey and Kerri McGowan Lowrey, JD, MPH, Senior Staff Attorney with the Network for Public Health Law — Eastern Region, about legal and legislative approaches to addressing concussions in youth sports. The previous interview is included below:
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?