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Local Health Department Priority Setting: An Exploratory Study

Platonova, Elena A. PhD; Studnicki, James ScD; Fisher, John W. PhD; Bridger, Colleen PhD

Journal of Public Health Management & Practice:
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e3181ca2618
Article
Abstract

Priority setting is an integral part of the community health assessment process since it helps direct the allocation of limited public health resources among competing needs. There is a recognized need for a systematic mechanism to prioritize community health issues in objective, data-driven, quantifiable measures. This exploratory study examined the extent to which data-driven objective criteria were considered important to public health officials in North Carolina and, specifically, the extent to which they chose between objective and subjective criteria in establishing public health priorities. The differences between the health officers' practice (criteria they actually used) and their preferences (criteria thought to be important) were also assessed. It was found that NC health directors generally used subjective criteria more often than objective criteria when deciding on the most important health issues in their communities. A considerable segment of the respondents, however, considered objective criteria more important, even though subjective criteria were the dominant influence in their actual practice of priority setting. Our preliminary results suggest that officers' education and tenure may influence their practice and preferences. Perceived and real barriers to the use of data-driven objective criteria for priority setting are an important topic for future public health research.

In Brief

This exploratory study examines to what extent data-driven objective criteria were considered important to public health officials in North Carolina.

Author Information

Elena A. Platonova, PhD, is Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

James Studnicki, ScD, is Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina.

John W. Fisher, PhD, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina.

Colleen Bridger, PhD, is Director, Gaston County Health Department, Gastonia, North Carolina.

Corresponding Author: Elena A. Platonova, PhD, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 9201 University City Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28223 (eplatono@uncc.edu).

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.