The Black Death, or bubonic plague, swept through medieval Europe in the mid-1300s, killing 30%–50% of the population. The disease was so quick to claim lives that individuals could be “healthy in the morning and dead by evening” (Walsh, 2014). Although that the source of the disease was later determined to be the fleas of rodents, medical practitioners at the time believed the disease to be communicable. One measure was to enforce laws requiring the reporting of individuals who had contracted the disease. This early example of disease reporting and surveillance was a precursor to what we now know as public health informatics.
This week, you examine the application of health information systems (HISs) and health information management technology in public health. You look at how one type of data analysis, a geographic information system (GIS), may be used in public health strategic planning and identify terms and concepts related to public health informatics.
• Apply health informatics technology in public health
• Identify terms and concepts related to public health informatics
Consider the example of the bubonic plague in the Introduction. How might shared information on the geographic representation of the disease have changed the course of diagnosis and even treatment? Perhaps physicians of that time would have been able to discover that cities with large rodent populations also had a high incidence of the plague, which might have helped them to pinpoint the source of the disease sooner. Or perhaps they would have been able to better trace the direction of the plague from one regional area to another, or the demographics of the individuals who tended to get it. Today, public health organizations are fortunate to have at their disposal a wealth of information systems that serve as essential public health tools. These systems are used to guide public health decisions on everything from epidemiologic disease and risk factor surveillance to facility billing and records to policy development. The need for information is not so much the issue as the usability of the data. Thus, well-designed information systems are key to managing the data and organizing it into relevant information. Public health organizations heavily rely on such systems to inform managerial decision making and improve operations, planning, policy analysis, health outcomes assessment, epidemiologic surveillance, and program evaluation and performance measurement.
One type of health data analysis tool is a geographic information system (GIS). The CDC (n.d.-c) defines GIS as “a collection of science and technology tools used to manage geographic relationships and integrate information. GIS helps us analyze spatially-referenced data and make well-informed decisions based on the association between the data and the geography.”
A system is only as good as the leadership applied to it, however. How might public health administrators best use their leadership skills to manage data and informatics in a strategic way that benefits the organization and its stakeholders and constituents?
Reflect on the media, especially the piece titled Public Health Informatics regarding how individuals in the Howard County Health Department employed the use of GIS and other health informatics in their daily work.
For your identified public health problem obesity in North East Washington DC, conduct research using health information systems (HISs) and health information management (HIM). Refer to Table 14.2 in your textbook and the GIS section on the CDC’s website. (2–3 paragraphs in APA style) description of specific health or health-related issues at a county level from the data gleaned from one these sites. From a leader’s perspective, how would you apply geographic information systems (GIS) technology in evaluating health issues, such as equity and impact? Then, explain how health informatics technology functions to inform and support the strategic planning process. Be specific and provide examples.
• Shi, L., & Johnson, J. A. (2014). Novick and Morrow’s public health administration: Principles for population-based management (3rd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
o Chapter 13, “Public Health Information Systems and Management” (pp. 267–288)
o Chapter 14, “Geographic Information Systems for Public Health” (pp. 289–312)
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (n.d.-b). Foodborne diseases active surveillance network (FoodNet). Retrieved October 6, 2014, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodnet/
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (n.d.-c). Geographic information systems (GIS) at CDC. Retrieved October 6, 2014, from https://www.cdc.gov/gis/
• Public Health Informatics Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved October 6, 2014, from https://www.phii.org/
• Laureate Education (Producer). (2014d). Public health informatics [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
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