Importance of Public Health Data

by Carolina on December 21, 2009

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Author: Dr. Arana

Surveillance systems provide the foundations on which to build successful control and prevention programs. The analysis and comparison of surveillance systems can help ensuring that these systems are collecting the right data and following appropriate procedures to obtain good data and support quality planning, dissemination of data, and implementation of population-based interventions.

Much of public health data comes from hospitals, laboratories and private providers and public health has considerable data that has health policy, research and clinical value.

The demand for a more efficient and responsive public health system that uses its data as a resource to improve community health and public health practice, the increasing need to exchange data across public health information systems in order to create more complete and integrated profiles of individuals, families, and communities, and the increasing need to exchange data with hospitals, private providers, jails, state agencies, and other local health departments, requires a critical analysis of existing and new Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance systems.  Studies about BRFS systems can provide those systems that require improvement or that are under development, with guidance on the importance of elements like data resources, technology, methods, tools, and strategies implemented and how major systems are applying them.

Data obtained from these Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance systems can support quality care/services and improvements in public health practice, and also make comprehensive community assessments of needs, a successful step to control and prevent disease and disability.  It is important to raise awareness among and involve public health partners in quality data improvement, since public health is more than what happens in the health department.  Data from these BRFS systems will provide a detailed and a general scope of the population needs, which should be targeted for the different programs and interventions resulting in prevention and control of risk health behaviors and diseases.

The analyses and comparisons of different BRFS systems is also critical because we cannot improve what we do not measure. Comparisons from state-to-state and to national data can be important to identify not only local but also national health status that at the same time could be compared among countries. This will help to evaluate and develop interventions related to the population needs assessment and programs’ rationales. The more valid the data obtained from surveillance systems the more realistic and effective the population based interventions to control and prevent diseases and disability will be.

Other important aspect as a result of the analysis and comparison of these BRFS systems is the fact that public health communities are transforming how they manage and use health information.  Therefore, it is crucial to be informed about the different methods of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data presented in other systems, in order to improve existing surveillance systems and create new ones that ensure more valid and timely data at the lowest possible cost to public health action. It is learned that effective and realistic population based interventions are based on valid and timely data obtained from surveillance systems and disseminated among decision-makers in order to make public health action.

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