Leveraging the power of data
The factors affecting our health are wide-ranging, from inefficient or underfunded systems, to new and changing health threats, to natural disasters, bioterrorism, access to healthcare, and the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases. Public health, like computer science, is about solving problems. In fact, the role of public health is to evaluate problems on a population level rather than on patient level and to make diagnoses in terms of the problems in the community rather than for an individual patient.
Data are one of CDC’s most powerful tools to assess this critical, top-level view of the public’s health. The data we collect can not only send signals to help us spot threats from known and unknown infectious diseases, including AIDS, hantavirus, Ebola virus, and Zika, but it can also track opioid overdoses, suicides, chronic conditions, lead poisoning, tobacco use, and much more. Discoveries derived from CDC’s 100 plus surveillance systems connect data across diseases and conditions thanks to information gathered from 3,000 agencies at the federal, state, local, and territorial levels.
Health IT’s new frontier—Innovation in Public Health
As the role of public health in our nation’s health care system is broadening and overlapping, we now have more connectivity than ever before. What used to be the domain of public health is now shared by fellow problem-solvers wanting to use their skills and tools to improve health. Computer search engines, social media, apps, and other wearables are contributing to new data streams. Much of this technology was not designed to track health, but is the byproduct of the ubiquity of innovation—and innovation must be a part of the public health landscape as well.
Public health is a great source of data and knows how to connect data. But we need to work together to make that data useful in real time and in the real world. As CDC makes strides in modernizing our surveillance systems and approaches to data collection, we need new ideas, flexibility, and readiness to connect across disciplines. We need a new generation of innovators with the skills to ensure our essential public health role works well in the new landscape. In short: we need people like you. So the question is, how can we work together to make sure public health innovates in the most strategic way for the future?
Chesley Richards is Deputy Director for Public Health Scientific Services at CDC, as well as the Director of the Office of Public Health Scientific Services.
In these two roles, Dr. Richards is a key advisor to the CDC Director and oversees the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology and Laboratory Services (CSELS) with activities that include the MMWR, Vital Signs publications, the Epidemic Intelligence Service and other scientific training programs, the Guide to Community Preventive Services, and a broad range of cross cutting epidemiology, public health surveillance, and laboratory services.
Dr. Richards earned his M.D. from the Medical University of South Carolina, an M.P.H. in Health Policy and Administration from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a graduate of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) at CDC, the Cancer Control Education Fellowship at UNC Lineberger Cancer Center and the Program on Clinical Effectiveness at Harvard School of Public Health. He completed Internal Medicine (Medical College of Georgia), Geriatric Medicine (Emory University) and General Preventive Medicine and Public Health (UNC Chapel Hill).