Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Practice-Based Research Networks in Public Health

A Progress Report on a program to improve the performance and capacity of public health agencies and systems

“We are giving our federal agency staff information about what public health looks like on the ground. It is hard for them to see on the ground, from where they sit.”—Glen Mays, program director

Dates of Program: October 2007 through November 2015

Field of Work: Public health practice and research

The Work: More than 75 percent of health care expenditures are attributable to diseases that are largely preventable. Yet, there is little evidence about how to best organize, finance, and deliver public health services to prevent these diseases and reduce their costs.

Public health practice-based research networks (PBRNs), located within states, are groups of public health practitioners and researchers that conduct research to improve the performance and capacity of local and state public health agencies and systems, and ultimately of public health.

Through two rounds of competition, the PBRN National Coordinating Center at the University of Kentucky selected and funded 12 public health PBRNs. In response to high levels of interest, the center accepted 16 additional networks as affiliates who receive technical assistance only; all sites can apply for research funds to carry out studies on issues of importance to public health practitioners.

Key Results to Date

  • By April 2013, 28 public health PBRNs were operating. Some 926 local health departments, 20 state agencies, and 35 academic units have been involved in RWJF public health PBRN-funded studies.

    • More than 50 studies conducted by networks were underway or completed.
    • Two special journal issues were devoted to the work of the networks.
    • National Coordinating Center and network leaders have conducted briefings for federal officials, including staff at the Food and Drug Administration and the Office of Management and Budget.
    • State policies are beginning to change, for example North Carolina and Kentucky's Quick Strike studies of variations in local health department responses to the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak enabled them to improve their responses.

Public health practice-based research networks in 26 states are working to improve local and state public health performance and capacity.

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75%

of health care costs are attributable to diseases that are largely preventable.

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#PBRNs are informing federal policy-makers to improve population health.