Health Informatics & Public Health

Health Informatics & Public Health

The role of public health is to protect the populace from preventable diseases, alert citizens to outbreaks of illness, and identify health trends among targeted segments of society. It is a fascinating study that has gained depth and significance through ongoing growth in the sophistication of the public health informatics discipline.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) established the Division of Health Informatics and Surveillance to support important initiatives, such as the Public Health Information Network (PHIN) and National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS). The group also maintains a database of public health statistics called CDC Wonder, along with a vast assembly of tools, templates and other valuable resources for public health professionals

A tremendous amount of research is also being done by the CDC. One example is their recent Gulf States Population Survey (GSPS) which studied adults living in communities along the Gulf of Mexico. The survey centered on the mental and behavioral health of persons impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to gauge the life-changing impact of this environmental threat.

While targeted research studies garner the most accurate data, there remains a challenge in the collection of health information from widespread sources including federal agencies and state and local municipalities. Advancements in the use of electronic health records, consistent with Meaningful Use mandates, have made it easier to source metrics in recent years.

However, there is not a standard information technology platform, which creates a major hurdle. Privacy laws and regulations also present a challenge in developing a public health informatics system that meet the needs of the medical and research community, while addressing the security concerns of the general public.

At the center of the public health informatics discipline are the informaticists that have the knowledge to leverage this data into effective policies and strategies. The CDC, in partnership with several professional associations, developed a list of core competencies that define a framework for excellence. These competencies can help set a benchmark for training and online degree programs designed to prepare individuals for a successful career.

New public health concerns arise on a regular basis, whether it is a salmonella outbreak at a food processing facility or a high incidence of a specific illness at a hospital or school. Being on the front lines of prevention and protection, through the collection and analysis of relevant data, can be a challenging and rewarding place to be.

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