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March 31, 2015

The road to becoming an informatics-savvy health department

Jeff Johnson, lead epidemiologist for San Diego county, demonstrates the health department's disease tracking software to PHII staff.

State and local health departments around the country are challenged to increase their information capabilities in a digital era. The phrase “informatics-savvy health department” emerged over a decade ago as a vision for public health to become capable players in an increasingly digital health ecosystem. Coined by Dr. Martin Laventure, director of the Office of Health Information Technology at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the term has gained recent popularity as a call-to-action for public health agencies to remain effective and credible partners in a world of e-health, health reform and population health initiatives.

So how does your health department become “informatics-savvy?” There are three core elements to focus on: having an informatics vision and strategy, supporting a skilled workforce and having well-designed and effectively used information systems. To assist in growing these capabilities, MDH and PHII have developed and piloted Building an Informatics-Savvy Health Department: A Self-Assessment Tool. The tool is designed to support capacity-building efforts within local or state health departments by both defining necessary informatics capabilities and by identifying activities to aid priority setting and planning.

The self-assessment tool asks a series of questions to identify where your agency falls on a continuum based on the three core elements mentioned above, identifying key strengths and weaknesses. Such a self-assessment encourages organizations to focus on and achieve an end goal, and developing a skilled workforce is critical to meet those goals. The value of the self-assessment is that it enables substantive discussions to reach consensus on where you are on the road to becoming informatics-savvy.

Becoming informatics-savvy isn’t just about technology—it’s about turning data into actionable information and knowledge for decision making and problem solving, ultimately leading to a robust public health system and healthy community.

Download the informatics-savvy self-assessment and facilitator guide here. Contact Debra Bara with any feedback and questions at [email protected].