To most effectively serve communities in today’s information-driven world, local health departments (LHDs) must develop the capability to transform data into public health action (e.g., services, interventions, and policies). But forging that capability is no easy feat. There are a multitude of challenges that stand between local public health and informatics, the field specializing in the use of data to inform decisions that improve community health.
Obstacles ranging from underdeveloped information technology (IT) infrastructure to insufficient workforce and capacity have made public health informatics seem either intimidating or vastly inaccessible to many LHDs. Despite these obstacles, there is a place for informatics within every LHD and “Public Health Informatics,” a new multi-article supplement in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice (JPHMP), explores that niche.
Penned by a cross-cutting range of experts in the fields of public health and informatics, who hail from government, academia, and the nonprofit sector, the supplement provides diverse perspectives and balanced insights into the current state of local public health informatics, the future direction of the field, and what’s required to ensure local health departments aren’t left behind. The publication features opening editorials along with articles covering the following focus areas:
- Informatics Infrastructure & Systems
- Health Information Exchange Partners and Challenges
- Informatics Skills and Workforce Needs
- Case Studies
Published on the heels of National Health IT Week, “Public Health Informatics” provides an important snapshot of LHDs capacity and potential for informatics, as well as the barriers standing between LHDs and optimal use of health information and technology. The articles highlight urgent challenges to integrating informatics into local public health – such as building informatics capabilities in smaller LHDs, ensuring informed and consistent leadership, and establishing effective training – and recommend ways to address those challenges through advocacy, workforce development, and education and peer sharing. The supplement doesn’t just focus on the uphill climb towards an informatics-savvy local public health landscape, though; it also reflects on the promise of informatics.
As the nation’s public health infrastructure transitions into Public Health 3.0 to address social determinants of health and advance health equity, local public health agencies will progressively take on the role of community health strategist. Although that role continues to be refined, it will most certainly require the ability to collect and analyze health data to implement decisions that protect and uphold the public’s health. Thus, possessing the capacity for informatics can increase the value of LHDs within the national public health landscape and give them a voice to help shape and define how health IT can improve public health.
Ultimately, the supplement reinforces how federal, state, and local partners can guide technical assistance activities (i.e. staff training, webinars) to assist public health practitioners to not only better manage informatics systems and build their own personal expertise, but also build the case to have these systems operating in their health departments. As Gibson et al. note, “If we address the need for well-informed leaders and accessible, practical training, and ensure that we shepherd forward LHDs of all sizes, informatics will make public health increasingly effective.”
NACCHO is pleased to share this supplement with our members and partners. We are proud to have projects and staff from our Informatics portfolio featured, and we sincerely appreciate the contributing authors for their hard work and coordination in helping develop this publication. The full publication is accessible online for free.
We encourage you to check out the articles and spark the conversation on informatics within your LHD! If you have questions, please contact NACCHO’s Informatics Team.