Last time on the podcast, Mary Beth Kurilo helped us explore immunization information systems (IIS). I’m always interested to learn how people get involved in public health, so in this bonus episode, we’ll hear about Mary Beth’s career path, including how she got interested in IIS and why she enjoys working in the IIS community.

You can listen to the embedded SoundCloud audio above or subcribe on iTunes.

Mary Beth Kurilo

INTRO

JESSICA

Public health informatics is the science and the art of taking raw data and turning them into useful information for health policies and programs. It takes all those data out there and turns them into knowledge of how people can live healthier lives. But how does this process work? My name is Jessica Hill and I work at the Public Health Informatics Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. This podcast is my quest to learn about informatics and how it’s made people’s lives better. How has it made my life better? And really, why does it matter? So, I’m ready. Inform Me, informatics.

Hey, thanks for listening to Inform Me, Informatics. This is Jessica Hill. This episode is going to be a bonus installment of our conversation with Mary Beth Kurilo. Mary Beth works at the American Immunization Registry Association. And she also works with us here at Public Health Informatics Institute. Her main area of focus is immunization information systems or IIS. I really like hearing about people’s career paths, so I asked Mary Beth what led her to public health and immunization information systems.

MARY BETH

I actually studied public health and social work in graduate school, and when I came out of graduate school my first job was working in quality improvement. And one of the projects that I worked on was looking at immunizations in nursing homes, and how well populations were covered, and encouraging long term care overall to immunize in accordance with recommendations. And as part of that work, I stumbled over the fact that Oregon had this great immunization registry and I was shocked. Because at that point I had never heard of an immunization registry. And I was so excited that there was this great population data system out there that was capturing this really great information about a really solid and proven public health intervention. And so, when a job opened up in Oregon’s registry I jumped on it. And it was a training position to work with our coalition around getting partner’s more engaged in vaccinations, and doing some of the operational work around an immunization registry.

JESSICA

So, were you, like, tracking and waiting for a position?

MARY BETH

I was. I was. I mean, I think, you know, in your career trajectory there are just those times where you realize something really excites you and that you have a lot of passion behind it. And that was it for me. I really liked that inner section of, sort of, public health theory and technology, and using technology to further the goals of public health. So it was a perfect fit for me.

JESSICA

So you had the opportunity to join the IIS in a training role?

MARY BETH

The role was as a trainer, primarily for external partners. So, working with clinics and hospitals and pharmacists around immunizing. But it also…I started with the registry in 2003 and it was at a time when we were building in a lot of functions that supported other areas of the immunization programs. So working with the epidemiologist and the surveillance folks to make sure that they knew about this great resource, and how to best use it for studies and research.

Working with our vaccine management staff, so they could start thinking about how the IIS could be used to track public vaccines that providers were accountable for using. Working with our school law folks about how the IIS could be used to meet school law and track exemptions. Even working with our communicable disease office around how they could access the immunizations of cases for disease reporting. And so it really was a lot of work with our partners and stakeholders, which I think is really valuable.

I think the more people that know about what immunization registries are and what they do, the better we can use this very rich data. I think IIS are somewhat unique in public health, in that the goal is not just to get the information into a data system, it’s really to get it in, get it synthesized and processed, and then get it back out for clinical decision support on an individual level, but also population-based decision making on how best to impact the population.

JESSICA

And do you feel your training as a social worker influences the way you look at public health or the way you’ve practiced public health?

MARY BETH

I do, I do. I actually did a double Master’s. One in social work and one in public health at University of Washington. And what’s really nice about both degrees is that they are both very interdisciplinary. And so, they engage lots of parts of the system. So, looking at economics and social issues and health. And both of them have a lot of overlap. And I also think that both of them are very focused on social justice and looking at the population as a whole.

So not just a small segment or a narrow slice of the population, but really what does this mean for the population as a whole? So I think that my social work degree, because it looks at things in a very systemic way, is a perfect complement to public health. And I just have to say, working in the immunization information system community, or IIS community, is a really fun place to work. And I have learned so much and I continue to learn every day.

JESSICA

That’s cool to hear, because when people think immunizations they don’t always think, “Fun.” I’m just completely honest.

MARY BETH

Well then, as a mom, I can vouch for that. It’s not always fun taking your kids in to get immunizations, or to get immunizations yourself. But it’s really one of those foundational pieces of public health that clearly has great health outcomes if you look at how far we’ve come over the last century with the adaption of immunizations and the elimination of many diseases. But it also is a really concrete, measurable aspect of public health where we can really look at how we’re doing with immunizing the full population and capturing those data and using those data to make good health decisions.

JESSICA

I also wanted to know if Mary Beth could give us an example of a project that she thinks really highlights the value of immunization information systems in public health practice.

MARY BETH

One of the things sort of mid-way in my career with Oregon, one of the things we experienced was a separate meningococcal outbreak in central Oregon. And we were able to look at the impact of…we were able to look at how well covered that population was for meningococcal. And then also the impact of each of the new stories of meningococcal cases, and we were able to see the spike of immunizations, both in the area where it happened and then the spike of immunizations in our largest metro area in Oregon when the story came out about this patient who had actually had some amputations because their meningococcal disease.

And if you look at the graph, there are just two amazing spikes in immunization administration when those stories broke. And so, that’s another example of where information then actually leads towards behavior change. People actually going out to get their immunizations and then having that be documented in the registry and having it be measurable. So it’s a great example and a great case study of how important it is to use information to motivate people to action.

JESSICA

Given all this experience with immunization information systems, I was curious to know how Mary Beth defines informatics.

MARY BETH

I think informatics does sound like a, sort of, confusing, mis-defining term. But in my mind all it really means is using data for information. So taking data that’s out there and translating it into something that’s useful for public health. And I think there’s also a technology component. We’re living in a information age where we’re surrounded by information, really. And I think we need technology to help us synthesize information and have it available to us when we need it.

And so I think that informatics is able to do that. Is really taking data and using technology and automation to translate that into information and knowledge for better provision of health. And that’s really our goal, to make sure our populations are healthy. So I think it’s helpful to think of something like an IIS being sort of a process step on the way to get to stronger health outcomes. Because that’s really what we’re trying to impact all along.

JESSICA

Thanks for listening to this bonus installment of our conversation with Mary Beth Kurilo. Mary Beth, thank you for being our guest. Thanks also go to Kathleen Turaski of Residence Marketing who designed our logo. Our theme music is called Carnivale Intrigue, and was composed by Kevin Macleod. And so was the other music in this episode.

Inform Me, Informatics is a project of the Public Health Informatics Institute and the Informatics Academy. Hey, go check out more. It’s at www.phii.org. You can also find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, @PHInformatics. Finally, many thanks to our production team, especially Piper Hale, who is definitely my partner in the crime that is this podcast. Tune in next time for more stories about informatics. I’m Jessica Hale and you’ve been informed.

BUTTON

JESSICA

[Singing] Hello from the other side.

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