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June 20, 2016

Notes on beginnings: PHII then and now

Notes from the “W meeting.” Those attending the meeting included: Ed Coleman, Bryant Karras, Bill Lober, Bud Nicola, Mark Oberle, Patrick O’Carroll, Patricia Richmond, Dave Ross, Sue Salkowitz, and Wu Xu.  

As the new leader for the Public Health Informatics Institute, a question I frequently get is “What is your vision for PHII?” Before answering, I’d like to take a quick look back at the origins of PHII.


This photo of handwritten meeting notes represents the beginning ideas of the Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII). In January 2002, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded PHII to convene a group of public health influencers to define the informatics topics that could transform the public health field. Some of the themes, such as collaboration and training, continue to be fundamental to PHII’s work today. The group determined that PHII (then known as All Kids Count) should carry out this valuable work. The meeting took place at the W Hotel in Seattle; hence, the event is known fondly as the “W Meeting,” an important milestone in PHII’s history.

“Since [its founding], PHII has helped establish informatics as a critical discipline in building public health capacity [and] earned a reputation for collaborating directly with health practitioners.”

Since that time, over 14 years ago, PHII has helped establish informatics as a critical discipline in building public health capacity. We’ve earned a reputation for collaborating directly with health practitioners in the field through training and communities of practice. Adoption of PHII methodologies such as CRDM™ has become widespread. I credit Dave Ross, Ellen Wild and the incredible, growing PHII team for making these accomplishments happen.

So, where do we go next? I look forward to working with my PHII colleagues to determine our future roadmap. In the meantime, a few themes have already started to emerge:

Connecting public health and health care

Through projects like the EHR Toolkit, PHII is helping accelerate public health agencies’ access to data from electronic health records. In addition, we recently worked with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Deloitte Consulting LLP to bring health care providers, health IT vendors and public health representatives together to build consensus for improved information flow between clinical settings and public health agencies. A seamless flow of information has incredible potential to improve surveillance by increasing data consistency, completeness and timeliness.

Global momentum

In the last few years, PHII really stepped onto the global stage. PHII is the lead informatics partner for the CHAMPS Network, a long-term project which aims to ascertain the causes of illness and death for children under five years old. We’ve also been analyzing the health workforce needs of several African countries, and with the help of Georgia Tech students, created a tool to place health care workers strategically, in the areas that need them the most. We continue to meet with global organizations and know our work in this area will grow.

Local efforts

A pedestrian in Atlanta walks south on Cobb Parkway, an area where there are no sidewalks. One of the local public health issues that could be addressed by a collaborative PHII initiative is community walkability. Photo courtesy of Transportation for America, via Flickr.

Finally, while we’ve been working across the world, we’ve also been thinking about how to effectively employ informatics at home. Certainly, we have a long history of working in the U.S., particularly through our immunization work and communities of practice. We hope to get even closer to home. We’re in discussions with our local counties in the Atlanta area, about developing tools to illuminate the health issues in our community. We’d like to be able to understand health issues and disparities neighborhood by neighborhood.

With the PHII team, we’ll be exploring these themes, and deciding where to focus our efforts in the next few years. I especially recognize and thank those at the “W Meeting” 14 years ago, for giving us such a strong foundation to continue building on.