Collaborations between academic institutions and state and local health departments have been shown to enhance the public health core functions of Assurance by improving the public health workforce's knowledge and skills. Few studies have analyzed how academic-health department collaborations enhance Assessment and Policy Development core functions. This qualitative study explores types of collaborations between health departments and Prevention Research Centers (PRCs) and how they align with the core functions. Prevention Research Centers are academic institutions funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct public health research and translate research results for policies and practices.
We reviewed each PRC's annual report from fiscal year 2011 and abstracted descriptions of PRC-health department collaborations. We identified 14 themes of PRC-health department collaborations and conducted a qualitative analysis to describe the dimensions and distribution of themes.
Of the 37 PRCs, 36 reported 215 collaborations with 19 city, 97 county, 31 state, and 46 tribal health departments. Themes of research, survey, and surveillance aligned with the Assessment core function and evaluation, strategic planning, technical assistance, and program implementation supported the Policy Development and Assurance core functions. Overall, health departments provided on-the-ground expertise to inform PRC research, ensuring its applicability to public health practice. Reciprocally, PRCs improved data quality, increased the scientific rigor of health department processes and programs, and filled knowledge gaps within health departments. Both PRCs and health departments enhanced the relevance of public health programs and practices by grounding implementation and evaluation in community needs and views.
Findings from this study demonstrate that PRC-health department collaborations often enhanced multiple core functions that could lead to implementation of evidence-based interventions and continuous quality improvement of public health administration at the local, state, and tribal levels. This study highlights the value and importance of reciprocal academic-health department partnerships.