Experience of Using Information Systems in Public Health Practice: Findings from a Qualitative Study

Joshua Vest, L. Michele Issel, Sean Lee


Objective: Data collection and management by local health departments (LHDs) is a complex endeavor, complicated by system level and organizational factors. The purpose of this study was to describe the processes and use of information systems (IS) utilized for data collection, management, and sharing by LHD employees.

Methods: We interviewed a purposive sample of 12 staff working in the key public health practice areas of communicable disease control, immunizations, and vital records from three LHDs in different states. Our interview questions addressed job descriptions, daily activities, and the use and perceptions of both data and IS in support of their work. A content analytic approach was used to derive themes and categories common across programmatic areas.

Results: Local public health involves the use of mix of state-supplied and locally implemented IS supported by paper records. Additionally, each LHD in this study used at least one shadow system to maintain a duplicate set of information. Experiences with IS functionality and the extent to which it supported work varied by programmatic area, but inefficiencies, challenges in generating reports, limited data accessibility, and workarounds were commonly reported.

Conclusions: Current approaches to data management and sharing do not always support efficient public health practice or allow data to be used for organizational and community decision making. Many of the challenges to effective and efficient public health work were not solely technological. These findings suggest the need for interorganizational collaboration, increasing organizational capacity, workflow redesign, and end user training.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/ojphi.v5i3.4847

Online Journal of Public Health Informatics * ISSN 1947-2579 * http://ojphi.org