111: How to Modernize PH Data

Joanne Pearsol, ASTHO’s Director of Workforce Development, says more than 40,000 public health professionals responded to the latest PHWins survey; Dr. Jamie Pina, ASTHO’s Vice President of Public Health Data Modernization, offers a plan to...

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Joanne Pearsol, ASTHO’s Director of Workforce Development, says more than 40,000 public health professionals responded to the latest PHWins survey; Dr. Jamie Pina, ASTHO’s Vice President of Public Health Data Modernization, offers a plan to modernize public health data; and a COVID-19 vaccine for very young children could win emergency approval from the FDA in as little as two weeks.

ASTHO webpage: PH Wins – Research to Action

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: With Major Investments From Congress and Technology in Hand, What Will It Take to Make Public Health Data Modernization a Reality?

CNN Health: Pfizer and BioNTech seeking emergency use authorization from FDA for COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 5

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, February 3rd, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


The COVID-19 virus continues to tax frontline public health professionals, but to what extent has it impacted their work and—more importantly—their future career plans? ASTHO and the de Beaumont Foundation are done gathering data for more than 40,000 public health workers who responded to the latest PH Wins survey.

This is ASTHO's Joanne Pearsol on the feedback from those answering the call.


We received feedback—appreciative feedback—that the survey this year addresses the effects of COVID and the effects that that has had on the workforce, such as were there changes in job assignments or roles, experiences of being threatened or bullied on the job. There was also appreciation for inclusion this year of more questions addressing health equity and racism as a public health issue and crisis.

And then, we also heard a lot of agencies that are anxiously awaiting their results this summer so that they can actually put it to use and start planning with it.


Top line results will be available in the spring. A complete report on the data is set to go public this summer.


The public health practice community is at a turning point. That's how ASTHO's Dr. Jamie Pina and his colleagues, J.T. Lane, Elizabeth Ruebush, and Priyanka Surio describe the current state of public health data modernization. Their view is outlined in a new article written for the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. Dr. Pina explains the group's position in today's morning conversation.

Regarding public health data modernization, did the pandemic—in your view—create a crisis or an opportunity?


The pandemic created both a crisis and an opportunity.

The pandemic showed us some of the weaknesses in our data infrastructure in the United States, and really allowed public health informaticians and professionals who engage with the world of data modernization to come together and take an honest, close look at where we have gaps in our infrastructure and where there's room for improvement.

So, in that way, it did create an opportunity. It allows us to take a step back, take an honest look at what happens when our data systems are truly taxed, and gave us the chance to come together again to talk about how we can improve them.


You've been thinking about this, so we want to know what you think it will take to make public health data modernization a reality, knowing what we today about our systems and their strengths and weaknesses.


To carry the vision forward, it's going to take continued funding from Congress and a dedication from all of our public health leaders and decision-makers to continue to put emphasis on the improvement of our data infrastructure, probably across the span of about a decade. These kinds of changes don't happen quickly—there's a lot of factors to consider. And so, I think that the continued investment is something that's really going to matter a lot.

It's also going to take a shift in the way that we address data infrastructure in the United States. In the article, we call to the need for adopting enterprise architecture, which can be summarized by saying that it's an approach to managing data where you consider the entire organization and its various business processes when you create the structure by which you'll collect and exchange and share information. And that's been done successfully in a lot of private sector environments, and public health hasn't quite caught up yet.

And so, in the article, we make the argument that this is a great opportunity for us to look more closely at that kind of approach and to embrace it. Public health is traditionally funded programmatically; and because funding comes as various health concerns emerge, the funding—and thereby the data systems that drive those programs—are created around either those funding opportunities or the emergent needs of the population. And so, shifting away from that mindset when we develop and consider our data infrastructure is something that all of us as public health professionals will have to embrace.


What do you think will be easier, then: convincing Congress to continue to invest at this level in public health, or getting everyone to work together?


It's a great question. I think that the case is easily made as we all have the pandemic in our personal lives and it's on the forefront of everybody's thinking. I hope that the lessons we've learned throughout the pandemic with regard to informatics and data modernization will continue to be something that we consider when making decisions about longer-term spending and funding in public health.

I have tremendous faith in the public health community. I've worked in this field for a long time and everyone I've encountered has a community mindset and a desire to collaborate, share ideas, and engage with each other to achieve the best possible outcomes. So, I think the intention is there, and now the need is to create structure and guidance that we can all follow so that we can achieve the outcome that we're aiming for.

I think everybody believes in the vision and I think the next step is to create really solid guidance that practitioners on the ground and federal agencies can follow in order to achieve the vision of data modernization.


The article in the journal's March-April edition is available online. You can read it using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, a COVID-19 vaccine for very young children—those ages six months to five years—could get federal approval for emergency use in as little as two weeks.

Tomorrow, two pediatricians and leaders in public health tell us what that decision could mean and how agencies ought to prepare for a possible announcement. Dr. José Romero and Dr. Josh Sharfstein visit with us tomorrow morning.


That'll do it for today's report.


Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Joanne Pearsol MA MCHES

Director, Workforce Development, ASTHO

Jamie Pina PhD MSPH

Vice President, Public Health Data Modernization, ASTHO