Since 1992, the Institute has assisted public health organizations in defining and leveraging the power of information systems to meet public health needs. The Institute grew out of All Kids Count, a program funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
All Kids Count was instrumental in the development of immunization registries – one of the first widely implemented public health information systems – and in the development of integrated child health information systems.
We evolved into the Public Health Informatics Institute in 2002, building on the lessons learned in All Kids Count, to formulate the Collaborative Requirements Development Methodology™ (CRDM), a strategic approach to assisting public health organizations to apply and manage information effectively to advance their population health goals.
In 2009, the Institute branched out into global health, working with PATH and the WHO on a collaboration using the Institute’s methodology to define the ideal characteristics and requirements for creating and optimizing logistics management information systems (LMIS) that handle vaccines and other medical supplies, building flexibility and efficiency into of one of the world’s most important delivery systems.
Also in 2009, the Institute launched two important initiatives in informatics training and workforce capacity: Development of the Applied Public Health Informatics Curriculum (APHIC), and the launching of the Informatics Academy.
In 2011, the Institute launched APHIC and the Informatics Academy; lead development of a consensus view of the future of e-Public Health, and the roadmap to get there; and delivered an ever-widening set of collaboratively-developed and vetted requirements for public health information systems across the functional domains of public health, based on the Institute’s industry-leading methodology.
As we prepare to look back over the history of the Public Health Informatics Institute, we may find it helpful to revisit the genesis of the field. One of the first publications to establish and define “public health informatics” was “Public Health Informatics: How Information-Age Technology Can Strengthen Public Health”, an article authored by Andrew Friede, Henrik L. Blum and Mike McDonald. Published in the Annual Review of Public Health in 1995, the paper introduced public health informatics as “the science of applying Information-Age technology to serve the specialized needs of public health.” Although the term “Information Age”, like the ubiquitous “Information Superhighway”, has mostly fallen out of use since the paper was written, the authors’ fundamental definition of public health informatics is as relevant and timely now as when it was written:
“The application of information science and technology to public health practice and research… to support the mission of disease prevention and health promotion”.
Dave Ross, now executive director of the Institute, was involved from the beginning with the authors and other thought leaders at CDC in launching the field of public health informatics. As Dave recalls the story, “One day around 1987, a bright EIS officer at CDC named Andy Friede came to Howard Ory, the first director of the Information Resources Management Office (IRMO, predecessor to NCPHI, aka PHITPO, etc.) and suggested that it would make sense to develop one program/platform that could handle a lot of routine queries against standard CDC datasets. Howard brought Andy into IRMO as the first head of the scientific computing arm of that office. Until that time, IRMO was mostly focused on computer operations, acquisitions of personal computers to mainframes, and figuring out the new and exciting world of LANS, CANS and WANS.
“With Howard’s support and guidance, Andy conceived of Wide-ranging OnLine Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER), a tool that provided access to data on the CDC mainframe for analyses by CDC epidemiologists. With support from the CDC/OD, the group launched a “skunk works” that led to the development of WONDER and eventually WONDER-PC, which included access to e-mail for practitioners from local and state health departments, private bulletin boards, and searchable CDC document libraries, plus the capability to download data in CDC surveillance programs while maintaining data security and patient confidentiality. It was at some point during that period that Andy began using the term public health informatics. He brought in Patrick O’Carroll and the group grew. By 1992, a group of participants partnered to launch the Information Network for Public Health Officials (INPHO) initiative. By 1993/1994, we were all using the term public health informatics, and had created an interest group within AMIA that drew all of eight people to a meeting at the annual AMIA conference.”
Those early seeds of public health informatics focus took root, and the field has garnered significant attention and grown in importance every year since. Dedicated public health informatics meetings now draw hundreds of public health leaders every year, and the leading public health associations have joined forces to create the Joint Public Health Informatics Taskforce (JPHIT), a collaboration committed to improving population health through informatics, health IT and information exchange.
In our next issue of “Looking Back”, we’ll revisit the strategic brainstorming meeting that created the foundation for the Public Health Informatics Institute.