Opportunities for the future of public health
The recent pandemic renewed a deep interest in public health investment. In our recovery, we have an unparalleled opportunity. Restructuring our public health infrastructure is the first and most important step towards a long-term fortification.
Enterprise data infrastructure, whether managed at the state or agency level, must be designed for efficiency, scalability and interoperability. There are extensive options for hosting data, whether it is in the cloud or on-site. The private sector’s experience of using advanced data architecture is remarkable – public health can now explore the possible.
Data collection systems, e.g. Systems for notifiable diseases, immunizations or cancer registries must be redeveloped to scale and to contain the information required by public health – as well as information that the public wants. Instead of relying on small budgets and time-limited commitments, suppliers and agencies should work together to build broader, more refined solutions, while ensuring knowledge transfer for sustainability.
The last element needed in the public health infrastructure is the most visible piece for those outside the public health – visualization. In recent years, it has become standard practice to use more tools for publishing public health data. Few of these tools allow for data preparation, analysis or modeling – as well as visualization – in a single room.
Data visualizations: Icing on the data cake
With real visualizations, epidemiologists can gain quick insight into problem clusters, areas with increasing numbers of cases, increases in disease, and potentially new pathogens. Visualizations that we all experienced with COVID-19 also give the public a much-needed insight into what, where and how a disease develops.
Unfortunately, disease reporting dashboards are largely outdated and lie in the depth of PDF files. Inhibited by the difficulty of extracting data from case study systems, analysts spend most of their time cleaning the data instead of interpreting and sharing what it means.
The public and the media have never been more interested in public health data than now. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many public health agencies struggled to produce real-time data monitors that were urgently needed for situational awareness. As the pandemic moves into continuing waves – and as public health adapts to longer-term visualization needs – many are trying to integrate statistical programs, even multiple programming languages and visualizations, into one space. This integrative approach is widespread in the private sector, from banking to retail. Public health now has the means to access these important tools.