Making a Powerful Connection: the Health of the Public and the National Information Infrastructure. 9.0 Strategy for Expanding Public Health Applications of the Nii


In a sense, expanding public health applications of the NII can be viewed as one component of a larger and more comprehensive public health information strategy, which needs to be developed by all parties in the public health community. To date, few public health professionals have thought strategically about their information needs. Consequently, many basic questions (e.g., What information is required, for what purpose, by whom, and in what form? How will appropriate access to usable information be ensured?) remain unanswered at national, state, and local levels. Only in the context of a larger and widely shared vision will the importance of the NII to meeting the information needs of population health be widely appreciated, or will the NII be put to use throughout the country to improve the health of whole communities.

By bringing together leaders of the public health and NII communities to discuss the issue, the April 19 conference was an important early step in a strategy to articulate the information needs of population-based public health and to encourage the application of NII technologies to public health's information problems. Those attending the follow-on session on April 20 (listed in Appendix 1) emphasized that moving forward will require the development and implementation of a comprehensive strategic plan that capitalizes on what a broad range of actors -- state and local public health agencies, federal agencies, professional associations, educational institutions, and other groups -- can do individually and together to address the barriers described in the previous section. They believed that such a plan should be designed to:

  • bring the broad public health community together to develop a comprehensive public health information strategy, including a compelling vision (and specific examples) of how NII technologies can improve population health;
  • advance a nationally uniform framework for privacy, data standards, unique identifiers, and data sharing, without which, it is very difficult to implement integrated health information systems;
  • bring public health, health care, research, and informatics groups to the table to ensure that privacy of individually-identifiable health information is protected in ways that permit critical analytic uses of health data, and that standards for health data meet the needs of the diverse groups who collect and use health information;
  • promote the use of information in public health through legislative initiatives (such as Performance Partnership Grants) that foster accountability for improving population health, overcome categorical barriers, and permit states to use federal funds to develop and maintain integrated health information systems;
  • facilitate partnerships between the public health community and other sectors to identify and make progress toward common information goals (including both policy issues and health information systems projects);
  • improve information technology skills among public health professionals through changes in curricula and new approaches to continuing education; and
  • take advantage of all available opportunities to educate the public health and NII communities about the importance of the NII to population health and about information policy issues.

Below, specific actions are proposed for each of the types of organizations involved in the application of NII technologies to population-based public health. These action plans are intended to stimulate discussion, to help organizations identify opportunities for involvement, and to highlight the types of synergies that can be achieved through both intra- and cross-sector collaboration. Additional information can be obtained by contacting the sources listed in Appendices 1 and 2.