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Characterizing Informatics Roles and Needs of Public Health Workers: Results From the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey

Dixon, Brian E. PhD, MPA; McFarlane, Timothy D. MPH; Dearth, Shandy MPH; Grannis, Shaun J. MD, MS; Gibson, P. Joseph PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: November/December 2015 - Volume 21 - Issue - p S130–S140
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000304
Section 3: Policy Implications and Trends

Objective: To characterize public health workers who specialize in informatics and to assess informatics-related aspects of the work performed by the public health workforce.

Methods (Design, Setting, Participants): Using the nationally representative Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS), we characterized and compared responses from informatics, information technology (IT), clinical and laboratory, and other public health science specialists working in state health agencies.

Main Outcome Measures: Demographics, income, education, and agency size were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Weighted medians and interquartile ranges were calculated for responses pertaining to job satisfaction, workplace environment, training needs, and informatics-related competencies.

Results: Of 10 246 state health workers, we identified 137 (1.3%) informatics specialists and 419 (4.1%) IT specialists. Overall, informatics specialists are younger, but share many common traits with other public health science roles, including positive attitudes toward their contributions to the mission of public health as well as job satisfaction. Informatics specialists differ demographically from IT specialists, and the 2 groups also differ with respect to salary as well as their distribution across agencies of varying size. All groups identified unmet public health and informatics competency needs, particularly limited training necessary to fully utilize technology for their work. Moreover, all groups indicated a need for greater future emphasis on leveraging electronic health information for public health functions.

Conclusions: Findings from the PH WINS establish a framework and baseline measurements that can be leveraged to routinely monitor and evaluate the ineludible expansion and maturation of the public health informatics workforce and can also support assessment of the growth and evolution of informatics training needs for the broader field. Ultimately, such routine evaluations have the potential to guide local and national informatics workforce development policy.

The articles uses PH WINS to characterize and compare responses from informatics, information technology, clinical and laboratory, and other public health science specialists working in state health agencies.

Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health, Indianapolis (Dr Dixon and Mr McFarlane); Regenstrief Institute, Inc, Indianapolis, Indiana (Drs Dixon and Grannis); Center for Health Information and Communication, Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Health Services Research and Development Service CIN 13-416, Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center, Indianapolis, Indiana (Dr Dixon); Marion County Public Health Department, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Indianapolis, Indiana (Ms Dearth and Dr Gibson); and Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis (Dr Grannis).

Correspondence: Brian E. Dixon, PhD, MPA, Regenstrief Institute, 410 W 10th St, Ste 2000, Indianapolis, IN 46202 (

Dr Dixon is supported by a Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (71596) and a Public Health Services and Systems Research Award (71271) from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as well as awards from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (200-2011-42027 0003), the Merck-Regenstrief Program in Personalized Health Care Research and Innovation, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Health Services Research and Development Service CIN 13-416. Drs Dixon, Grannis, and Gibson are supported by a grant from the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (R01HS020209).

PH WINS was funded by the de Beaumont Foundation and conducted by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the de Beaumont Foundation. The authors further acknowledge Jennifer Williams, MPH, of the Regenstrief Institute for her amazing support and coordination of the activities involved in obtaining, managing, and analyzing the PH WINS data.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Regenstrief Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Veterans Affairs, or the US government.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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