Idea Gallery: Providing Answers Through Public Health Services and Systems Research

Aug 25, 2011, 3:14 PM, Posted by

Idea Gallery is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth in which guest authors provide their perspective on issues affecting public health.

In this era of declining resources for public health, and for that matter all of government, now more than ever it is imperative that we get the maximum bang for our buck. We simply cannot afford to be inefficient and ineffective in the delivery of public services. That means we need the best information, based on rigorous research, about how to provide public health services.

Public health services and systems research (PHSSR) provides answers. It guides us in how best to structure the public health delivery system and assure that what we do is the most efficient and effective way to keep people healthy and protected from disease. Just as good science needs to drive how we provide patient-centered, high quality, cost-effective health care services, we must have the information to assure population-centered, high quality, cost-effective public health services. PHSSR is the tool that allows that to happen.

To best assure public health services research does inform decision-making, we must identify the high-yield questions. To that end, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been working for more than a year to establish a new research agenda for public health services and systems research (PHSSR). The research agenda effort has involved Altarum, a private consulting organization, and the University of Kentucky National Coordinating Center for PHSSR. A series of systematic reviews identified the major areas of PHSSR that lend themselves to research questions:

  • Workforce
  • Organization and structure
  • Quality improvement
  • Data and methods

The agenda was grounded in these reviews and refined through a consensus-based process, including a series of webinars with a broad cross-section of researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and organizational representatives. The compiled results of that process have been vetted at sessions with major national public health organizations and are available for review, comments and voting on the National Coordinating Center website.

This new research agenda is an effort to update work accomplished by the CDC and the Public Health Foundation, which published PHSSR research agendas at the beginning of this decade. The new agenda is intended to reflect the rapid growth of the field in that time. The new research agenda is intended to guide the direction of research and initiatives in the PHSSR field. We anticipate, for example, continued emphasis on practice-based research networks. We anticipate that in funding efforts, priority will be given to grants that focus on the PHSSR agenda.

We recognize that PHSSR is a moving target and will continue to evolve – just as issues like SARS and H1N1 arose over the last decade. It is the nature of the discipline that the problems we’re facing will change. Given that, it is imperative that the PHSSR research agenda not be seen as a static document, but rather one that will evolve as new problems and issues arise facing public health. We are developing the PHSSR research agenda 2.0, and there will be future iterations. Ongoing mechanisms must be put into place to assure the agenda is current and reflects input from a variety of stakeholders.

Please take a few moments to visit through Aug. 31 to review the current status of the agenda, add your comments and vote (using electronic “chips”) to move your favorite issue to the top of the agenda.

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