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November 14, 2013

Empowering Public Health: The Creation and Adoption of Standards

The National Committee for Vital and Health Statistics asked for our comments on public health standards. Bill Brand, MPH, the Director of Public Health Informatics Science for PHII, spoke to the committee about our observations and recommendations from both a historical and a future perspective across the public health enterprise. Read PHII’s full testimony to the National Committee for Vital and Health Statistics on Public Health Standards here.

Bill’s key discussion points:

  • Functional, technical, and semantic standards have emerged and been widely adopted in several key program areas of public health.

  • Standards will emerge and be adopted when there is a clear need and business case driving their creation and adoption, and when the community of stakeholders most empowered by the adoption of a standard drive the process. 

  • Incentives and drivers for standards are found in compelling programmatic need, and in the understanding that all parties either are, or should be, doing the same work in the same way.

  • Implementation challenges relate to how long it takes for new ideas to diffuse, how public health funds information systems, and how jurisdictions choose to support adoption of new systems.

  • The greatest implementation challenge comes down to the capacity of public health practitioners and their respective associations to engage in standards development work, starting with building the value proposition and going through widespread adoption and effective use.

  • The standards community at large needs to assess its impact based on actual adoption and use, not on existence of a standard. To achieve use, one needs to reach the hearts and minds of the people who must use it and pay for its implementation. To reach them, you need to have a clear and compelling reason that adoption of a standard brings tangible benefit to all. 

  • Programmatic needs will drive the creation of standards and a joint business case will drive adoption of new standards.

  • Absent a broader engagement strategy, clearly articulated and compelling business needs, and adequate funding and expertise, little real and actionable value can be achieved in our federated public health system.

  • We ask the Committee to recommend the creation of a public health information trust fund to support several major activities.

David A. Ross, ScD

President/CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, former director of PHII