Application of information technology in public health surveillance is quite important in averting negative impact that would result from widespread epidemics such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which was recognized as global threat having begun in 2002 in China. In United States, the provision of healthcare to populations involves cooperation of several health providers and organizations. This paper discusses the importance of public health informatics as an example of information technology employed in promoting public health.
Public health informatics (PHI) can be defined as systematic application of computer science and technology and information to public health practice, research as well as learning. The system focuses on improving health of the entire community rather than the health of specific individuals (Craft & Androwich, 2009). This paper discusses the use of public health informatics in monitoring health populations, its benefits as well as the drawbacks in it has towards provision of efficient public health.
According to MedTerms (2012), public health has three core functions which are applied systematically. First, it is employed to assess and monitor the health of communities as well as populations at risk in order to identify health problems that should be prioritized. The system then helps formulate public policies specifically designed to find solution to the identified local as well as national health problems. It ensures that appropriate and cost effective care such as diseases prevention and health promotion as well as the evaluation of how effective that care is can be accessed by all populations. Public health informatics (PHI) health works to fulfill this three core values of public health. It is efficient and effective interdisciplinary profession that applies information science, engineering, mathematics as well as related social sciences such as decision analysis to solving public health problems.
Public health informatics is beneficial to the health of entire population. The system focuses on applications of information science and technology in order to attend to health of populations rather than health of specific individuals (Lee, 2010). PHI also offers attention to environmental factors such as automotive safety and water quality that can potentially pose health risk to a population as a whole as opposed to identifiable individuals (Linsley et al, 2011). PHI is thus important as it focuses on prevention of disease and injury by changing environment and conditions that put the entire population at risk (Riegelman, 2010). The system is characterized by disease prevention rather than treatment except for a few situations (Parvanta, 2011).
Despite the benefits of PHI in promoting public health, the system has three major challenges (Kirch, 2008). First, public health informatics has a challenge in developing coherent as well as integrated national information system in public health. This is based on the fact that the electronic reporting forms the basis of surveillance of the systems. It would thus require issues such as ability to define very specific medical conditions which can elicit various types of automated transmissions of data (Londrigan & Lewenson, 2011). The second challenge for PHI concerns its ability to facilitate the improved information exchange between clinical care and public health. Initial data received by public health is often manual which usually result into serious underreporting (Gebbie et al, 2003). Finally, the information that public health usually collect from the general public are often extremely personal medical information that if not handled and disclosed carefully may cause tremendous harm to the very individuals.
In addition to information received from public agencies, there is need to capture information from hospitals, laboratories, poison control centers, pharmacies, as well as environmental agencies. Contribution and cooperation from these agencies would enable timely collection of data to allow early detection and analysis of any impending health problems thereby increasing rapidity of response with effective and efficient interventions (Lombardo & Buckeridge, 007). Regional health information organizations (RHIOs) consider public health data obtained from different agencies such as hospitals, laboratories, and pharmaceuticals as important parts of their infrastructure. RHIOs are the fundamental units that join together to form National health information network (NHIN). The obtained public health data often include information about surveillance, preparedness systems, environmental health, and client information such as immunization registries, reporting and analyzing of laboratory results. Collaboration between organizations such as Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and health agencies important in working out an effective and efficient public health delivery (Institute of Medicine, 2012).
The move by PHI has reduced the frequency of outbreaks of communicable diseases among other preventive measures. It s thus had some implications on health as the frequency of attending to outbreaks of diseases such as cholera has reduced. This has consequently resulted into reduced cost of medication to the general public.