Public Health Faces: Public Health Informatics Conference Attendees

Aug 24, 2011, 7:29 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

More than 800 health department employees, public health officials and informatics professionals gathered in Atlanta, GA this week for the Public Health Informatics 2011 conference. NewPublicHealth stopped just a few to ask them their thoughts on informatics, how health information technology can support public health, and more.

Aspy J. Taraporewalla, M.S., IT Project Manager

Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What brings you to the Public Health Informatics Conference?

For me, mainly it’s about networking and to gain some insights for the project I'm working on.

What is the project you're working on?

I’m an IT project manager revamping the software systems for PRAMS [CDC's Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System]. We have 38 states participating in the program, and we survey moms pre-partum and post-partum. Data collection is done by the states, and then comes to CDC for analysis and weighting of data. States use the data to discover what the problems are in the community, and to find out solutions.

What was your favorite session at the conference so far?

The opening session with Todd Park. I enjoyed that, mainly about how to accelerate our work. I started participating in this conference back in 2005. I feel like we have stepped a couple of years back now because technology has moved so far ahead and public health hasn't caught up to it yet. It’s a slow process. We were talking about EHRs way back then. What I liked about his talk is the reminder that you need to be careful in thinking about how you can scope out technology for public health projects. I can’t get state of the art software because I need to make sure everybody I work with can use it.

What do you think is the greatest opportunity for health information technology to support public health prevention?

Merging the two [technology and public health] and providing a common platform to do that. And then making sure you’ve captured all the requirements in an accurate and complete way. Many times you jump into the software without capturing the requirements first. What I’ve done with my program is to start by asking what the states what they need rather than what is the technology to accomplish that. Whatever you need, there are tools that can do it.

Montra May, B.S., M.B.A., P.M.P., Director

MLink Corporation

What brings you to the Public Health Informatics Conference?

Health informatics, and to learn more about it as it relates to health information exchange.

What was your favorite session so far?

All of them have been good. My favorite was the very last one I attended where ONC [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology] was talking about harmonization and standards across the board for public health reporting, and that conversation has a lot of merits. They’re asking us for input for all of the standards, to look at from the international and national levels. There’s a lot of opportunity there.

What do you think is the greatest opportunity for health information technology to support public health prevention?

I think the greatest opportunity is to find standard ways to provide interoperability between all systems that work together need to communicate. In a real way I think that’s a great opportunity and as we work together we will realize that.

What is your organization doing with health information technology?

I have an enterprise technology background and for the last several years I’ve been focusing on health IT research at the Ph.D. level on adoption of EHRs, meaningful use, and cloud technology. My professional background is in supporting health information exchange.

Tania D’Alberti, M.A., IT Specialist/Contractor

Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)

What brings you to the Public Health Informatics Conference?

I work on two systems for DTRA, one is the Electronic Integrated Disease Surveillance System (EIDSS) and the other is Pathogen Asset Control System (PACS). So the goal through these programs, for the first is to assist former soviet countries with disease surveillance so it’s networked and reaches decision-makers. The other one is an inventory system for labs so they can better keep track of their inventory through bar-codes. It keeps them accountable.

What was your favorite session so far?

Probably the open-source software session. Right now there’s a lot of discussion going on in our organization, and there's a real push for going open-source. There are people who think yes it’s the right thing, you absolutely have to do it; and other people think no, it’s evil. I lean more towards no, but yesterday they talked about a compromise. You can still maintain the source code on software even if it’s open source. There are ways to still maintain control. It’s been at the forefront of discussion lately so that was a good session.

What do you think is the greatest opportunity for health information technology to support public health prevention?

Probably opportunities for collaboration because there’s so much work being done in different organizations that do overlap right now. There’s a lot of data, a ton of different IT solutions. The vast opportunity would be figuring out how we can store it properly, gather it, and standardize it. In the end, if it’s done properly it will make that data much more distributable and understandable across the board.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.