Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Guest Commentary: Translating Research into Practice for Public Health Preparedness
Tamar Klaiman, PhD, MPH
Jefferson School of Population Health
Recently, the movement toward evidence-based practice in both clinical medicine and public health has received increased attention. However, bridging the gap between science and practice remains challenging. In the field of public health emergency preparedness, science is continually evolving, making its translation into practice particularly difficult.
There are potential threats to the public’s health from various types of emergencies including natural disasters, bioterrorism, chemical accidents, and emerging infectious diseases. In just the past few months we have seen tsunamis, nuclear accidents, floods, and tornadoes cause devastation around the world. Given the very real threats to the public’s health, it is imperative that the public health system be prepared to respond to such emergencies.
Traditionally, measuring emergency preparedness has focused on capacities such as checklists and inventories of equipment and supplies; however, this only scratches the surface of creating a public health system that is truly equipped to deal effectively with emergency situations.
Researchers have been working to better define preparedness through the development and testing of rigorous metrics used to evaluate public health system preparedness. While these metrics are grounded in science and have been tested in a variety of situations, translating those metrics into action in local health agencies across the country, and globally, has been a challenge. Similar to clinical medicine, there is great variation in public health performance, and reducing variation continues to be a goal for systems improvement experts across the public health system.
Given the drastic reductions in funding for local public health agencies across the country, public health practitioners will continue to have difficulty securing the resources necessary to conduct, consume, and translate research into practice. The lack of investment in such translation could leave the public vulnerable to numerous public health emergencies, the results of which may be profound.