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Who Will Keep the Public Healthy?: Educating Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century
matics research is essential to help set priorities for resources and ensure that new ideas are adequately tested prior to implementation. Academic researchers in public health have important roles to perform at the cross-roads between informatics and public health. The focus of public health on prevention, communities, surveillance, and longitudinal analysis introduces unique opportunities for informatics research (Yasnoff et al., 2001). Academic researchers in public health possess the expertise to help guide a research agenda and priorities for allocation of resources that concentrate on unique public health concerns that could have a substantial impact on public health practice. Contributions of this expertise to multidisciplinary research collaborations can increase the chances that this complex research will be successful and relevant to public health.
Specific research agenda items suggested at the American Medication Informatics 2001 Spring Congress include assessing informatics tools as they relate to real-time data acquisition; data mining for population data; assessing informatics tools for managing temporal, spatial, or multilevel data; developing methods of measuring the cost of informatics and the benefit that accrues from its use; determining the informatics aspects of a preventive health record for the community; studying the ethical issues needed to guide confidentiality policy; and determining the value and impact of the use of uniform coding and common clinical vocabulary on public health activities (Yasnoff et al., 2001). Uniform coding, the use of existing national standards, and identifying priorities for the development of new data standards are of great importance to public health informatics research. Representation in collaborations such as the Public Health Data Standards Consortium (PHDSC) is yet another significant role for public health academic researchers.
Cross-fertilization between government and academia and local and state agencies can stimulate interest and capacity to support new innovations in the use of technology in public health practice. An example initiated by CDC is the national network of Centers for Public Health Preparedness (CPHP) to strengthen bioterrorism and emergency preparedness at the front lines by linking academic expertise and assets to state and local health agency needs. A number of centers are currently providing public health professionals with connections to online resources and the opportunities to learn technology-based skills that can be applied in their work setting.
The critical challenge of educating the public health workforce in computing and communication technology applicable to public health activities will require collaborative action involving those working in the field; professional associations; local, state, and federal government agencies; library and information service providers; and programs and schools of public health.