By Claire Wang, MD, ScD, RWJF Health Policy Fellow, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health
Data, metrics, and analytics have historically been the backbone of public health practices. These tools provide the essential intelligence for actions – ranging from countering evolving epidemics, to untangling causes and effects, to prioritizing health protection resources. Yet, over the last several decades, public health’s mission has evolved from merely addressing what makes us sick to ensuring the conditions that enable everyone to be healthy. This evolution is guided by clear evidence that a large part of health and health behavior is driven by factors such as income, educational attainment, social cohesion, and other community characteristics. Therefore the future of public health requires more than the provision of quality health care, but also collective actions across multiple sectors to make sure health is a central value in all social, economic, and policy environments where people live, work, and play.
Public Health 3.0, an initiative launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, called for local public health leaders to act as “chief health strategists” in their communities. Since late 2015, the initiative convened a series of regional meetings and leader roundtables to spark national dialogues on the critical paths for all communities, small and large, to eliminate silos and address pressing health challenges from a multisectorial perspective.
Actionable and timely data, metrics that matter, and locally relevant analytics are a critical part of the toolbox for the success of local public health. The opportunity is unprecedented in this era of big data and powerful analytics, yet many local health departments lack the access or capacity to leverage these tools to drive impactful action.
On March 22, 2016, more than 40 thought leaders representing government, academia, and the private sector met in Washington, D.C. to exchange their insights on the topic of how to build the Public Health 3.0 informatics infrastructure. The full-day meeting focused on state and local health departments’ data-related challenges and opportunities, strategies to modernize the public health informatics landscape at the federal, state, and local levels, and innovations to engage new partners to help address social determinants of health. Participants stressed the need for a data system that is timely, locally relevant, and actionable in every community so that we can use data layered with local contexts to guide actions and track progress. This requires multisectorial strategic thinking in adopting a common standard for data sharing across jurisdictions while protecting privacy and security.
Recommendations from the meeting on how to move toward a Public Health 3.0 model included the following:
- Invest in data linkage, data visualization, and non-proprietary predictive analytics that retain privacy and security standards without creating unnecessary barriers
- Adopt a national dashboard of metrics that depicts community-level measures of health, including social determinants
- Interpret and analyze data at a local level in partnership with communities, to effectively meet unique local needs, leverage assets, and enrich data with relevant context
- Leverage health care data and non-traditional data sources by cultivating partnerships with other government agencies and the private sector
Download the full summary of the roundtable.