Big data resources presented at American Public Health Association meeting

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ATLANTA, Nov. 7, 2017 – 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.

Today at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health will share a training protocol designed to remedy this gap and be replicated nationwide.

“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.”

Van Nostrand directs the Mid-Atlantic Regional Public Health Training Center, which is a member of a national network funded by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) and serves public health practitioners in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Public Health Training Center was selected to lead all 10 national training centers in providing a digital destination for the public health workforce to understand and train in the use of health informatics.

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:

  • A Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics (FRED), which aids the public health workforce in preparing for and responding to 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.”

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About the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, founded in 1948 and now one of the top-ranked schools of public health in the United States, conducts research on public health and medical care that improves the lives of millions of people around the world. Pitt Public Health is a leader in devising new methods to prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases, HIV/AIDS, cancer and other important public health problems. For more information about Pitt Public Health, visit the school’s Web site at http://www.publichealth.pitt.edu. http://www.upmc.com/media

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