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Who Will Keep the Public Healthy?: Educating Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century
information transforms the practice of public health will be determined, in large part, by the willingness of public health leaders to recognize the need for informatics training. Several initiatives have been undertaken recently to promote this recognition.
The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) 2001 Spring Congress brought together the public health and informatics communities to develop a national agenda for public health informatics (PHI). The consensus of the session devoted to the topic of informatics training for the public health workforce was that the public health workforce urgently needed informatics knowledge and skills that could best be provided by a spectrum of educational programs (Yasnoff et al., 2001). Other, more detailed recommendations were to establish new and strengthen existing academic programs in PHI, develop a national competency-based continuing education program in PHI, adapt the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) medical school informatics objectives to PHI, and support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other efforts to develop core competencies in PHI.
CDC has established the Public Health Informatics Competencies Working Group to develop core competencies in public health informatics within the broader context of the Global and National Implementation Plan for Public Health Workforce Development with an initial focus on developing informatics competencies for the existing U.S. public health workforce. As of this writing, a document has been drafted identifying competencies for the three workforce segments defined by the Council on Linkages. Competencies are divided into two general classes. The first class includes competencies related to the use of information and computer sciences and technology to increase one’s individual effectiveness as a public health professional. Examples of these competencies include:
electronic communication (use of IT tools for the full range of electronic communication appropriate to one’s programmatic area);
on-line information access (use of IT tools to identify, locate, access, assess, and appropriately interpret and use on-line public health-related information and data);
data and system protection (application of relevant procedures to ensure that confidential information is appropriately protected);
distance learning (use of distance-learning technologies to support life-long learning); and
strategic use of IT to promote health (use of IT as a strategic tool to promote public health).
The second class of competencies is related to the development, deployment, and maintenance of information systems to improve the effectiveness of the public health enterprise.