ATLANTA – Although studies and surveys have shown that using information technology to analyze big health datasets and guide public health decisions can improve health equity, the majority of community health center leaders and staff report receiving little to no training in health informatics.
“There is so much information collected by community health centers, health departments, hospitals and other public health services – ranging from vaccination records to blood pressure screenings – that could give us insights about the public health needs of a community,” said Elizabeth Van Nostrand, J.D., associate director for law and policy in Pitt Public Health’s Center for Public Health Practice
. “But it can be difficult for these types of health agencies, which often provide a safety net for the nation’s most vulnerable populations, to make this data work for them and the people they serve. That’s where we hope to help.”
The training center’s protocol teaches public health providers to assess their needs when it comes to health informatics, and then guides them through a vetted list of more than 100 training programs, webinars and tools that can address those needs.
“Our goal isn’t to tell a center, ‘This is the best informatics tool for you.’ Our goal is to help them recognize their needs and learn how informatics can serve them,” Van Nostrand explained.
Also at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, Van Nostrand shared four free, open-access public health informatics tools
developed at Pitt Public Health that can aid the public health workforce in preparing for and responding to emergencies and disasters:
• LEgal Network Analyzer
(LENA), which assists with analyzing and comparing emergency laws, regulations and policies, and determines which public health agencies are legally directed to work together in emergency preparedness, response and recovery.
• Project TYCHO
, which is a repository of data from all weekly disease reports for the U.S. dating back to 1888.
• Emergency Law Inventory
(ELI), which contains more than 1,500 laws, searchable by profession and jurisdiction, that impede or facilitate volunteer response to disasters.
“By sharing these resources, and helping the public health professionals who work in our communities to understand what resources are out there and how they may be useful, I hope that we’ll be able to move the needle on data sharing,” said Van Nostrand. “And that will ultimately allow us to make more informed decisions about allocating public health resources.”