The JMC team spent the week of August 20th at the Public Health Informatics Conference. Melanie Kourbage spoke during a session on Integrating the Food Safety System with eLEXNET, while Jon Lipsky stepped in as a last minute facilitator for the eLEXNET session and also served as an informal panelist during a round table on APHL Informatics Technical Assistance. More important was the opportunity to catch up with friends and partners in the field, attend diverse sessions on cutting edge topics, and learn about exciting new approaches to some of public health’s greatest challenges.
Several sessions focused on communication with stakeholders, an issue that JMC recognizes as critical to the success of a project. Project managers must integrate the needs and ideas of everyone involved in a public health informatics project just as surely as they must integrate an agency’s systems. The ultimate goal of public health informatics is to deliver timely data to those who need it in a format that helps drive decisions and impact public health outcomes. In order to achieve this goal and for informatics to have a meaningful effect on public health workflows and analyses, it is critical that:
1) Public health professionals understand how the work that informaticians do fits into the public health ecosystem and how informatics can work for them.
2) Informaticians and system developers understand the data needs of public health professionals.
3) Messaging partners to talk frankly about sharing data.
During PHI, JMC attended sessions that offered advice about each of these crucial lines of communication.
In “How to Build the Human Connections that Promote Public Health Data Sharing across the United States”, Charlie Ishikawa discussed the workshop training model that he developed with the International Society for Disease Surveillance (ISDS) to encourage public health partners establish data sharing agreements. He emphasized human relationships are often the ironic barrier to data sharing and suggested ways of overcoming this resistance.
In another workshop entitled “‘Infor-what-ics?’: Tools for Communicating an Emerging Field”, the Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII) and its partner, the Frameworks Institute, unveiled new models for describing informatics projects to non-informaticians that draw on familiar domains such as architecture, language translation, and shipping logistics. Research by the Frameworks team found that the use of familiar imagery is effective in breaking down complex ideas for a lay audience.
Finally, in “What Business Analysis Techniques Can Do for Public Health Informatics Projects”, David Hyalin and Bill Brand argued persuasively that business analysis (BA) can be a useful technique for collecting requirements before developers begin configuring a new system. When done effectively, BA exposes the expectations and needs that stakeholders, even when stakeholders cannot articulate these needs themselves. BA can therefore increase the likelihood of user acceptance and ensure that the system developed will meet the needs of end users.
These sessions validated the strong emphasis that JMC places on communication. JMC makes clear, transparent communication a priority in all of our projects. In June, Mary Kate Yost-Daljev presented a talk at the APHL Annual Meeting on how to speak effectively to laboratorians about informatics, and to IT staff about laboratory processes. At JMC, our approach aims to bridge both the informatics gap between systems, as well as the gap between people. One our greatest strengths is that our staff has direct experience in the realms of public health, laboratory science, and informatics. We can therefore speak many “languages”, a skill which helps us ensure that all stakeholders understand the purpose and scope of each public health informatics project.