Data for Public Health

Public health relies on timely data that is relevant locally. Despite progress made at the national and state level and the wide adoption of EHRs, local public health professionals do not find it easy to obtain the critical data required at all times to guide actions and track impact.

To make progress in the field of public health, Karen B. DeSalvo, MD, HHS  Assistant Secretary for Health, unveiled the White Paper “Public Health 3.0” (PH3.0) presenting a new model for building healthier communities across the U.S.

DeSalvo said “Today, a person’s zip code is a stronger determinant of health than their genetic code. It is unconscionable that so many people die prematurely from preventable diseases. Even worse are the health disparities that continue to grow in many communities.”

PH3.0 summarizes key findings and recommendations to carry forward while stressing the need for timely and locally relevant data, metrics, and analytics. One recommendation urges substantial expansion of county and sub-county level data collection.

Another recommendation stresses the need to make more de-identified data available to researchers and the community in a timely manner. Tracking individuals or linking individuals across different data systems is sometimes impossible in the absence of unique personal identifiers.

PH3.0 in striving to improve data collection for public health purposes requires local leaders to explore alternative sources of data. This could include hospitals and ambulatory care records, health insurance claims, and EHRs.

It was also suggested in the White Paper that data sources could provide trends and patterns of healthcare utilization, admissions, and discharge information. This type of information often contains sufficiently granular location information and is available with only a short lag time. Communities are using this type of data for “hot spotting” areas with high healthcare needs that may benefit from comprehensive preventive efforts.

Also recommended is the need to take advantage of data across sectors. This can be data related to income, education, housing, crime, interpersonal violence and trauma, environmental hazards, transportation and education.

Go to to view the White Paper titled “A Call to Action to Create a 21st Century Public Health Infrastructure—Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health”.

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