Toward Standardized, Comparable Public Health Systems Data

A Taxonomic Description of Essential Public Health Work

This article presents a taxonomy of tasks, knowledge and resources that can be used as a common standard to document the work of local health departments. A standardized system is necessary to compare and evaluate the work of health departments on a national scale.

Researchers developed a taxonomy for the work of local health departments with the help of an expert panel. The taxonomy was then applied to 1,068 employees at 11 local health departments located throughout the United States to develop a profile of the work done at these agencies.

Key Findings:

  • Employees at all of the local health departments tended to respond similarly to questions about their tasks and knowledge, with a 70 percent correlation rate between departments in both of these two areas.
  • Employees did not report much common ground in their responses to questions about resources, which generate only a 16 percent correlation rate.

A standardized taxonomy for local health departments may help cast light on the work being done at these agencies and allow for comparisons between local health departments in different regions.