As we prepare for the 30th Anniversary AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting (ARM), we’ve asked leaders in the field to share some of their memories of the event and/or perspectives on how the field has changed since our first meeting in 1983. Below is a submission from Mary Davis, DrPH, North Carolina Institute of Public Health and Chair of AcademyHealth’s Public Health Systems Research Interest Group Advisory Committee.
Happy 30th Anniversary to the Annual Research Meeting. I’m looking forward to attending, to soaking in all of the emerging science, and to welcoming even more members to AcademyHealth’s largest Interest Group: PHSR.
Initiated in 2001, the Public Health Systems Research (PHSR) Interest Group (IG) is now AcademyHealth’s largest IG with 2,902 members. PHSR (also known as PHSSR—Public Health Services and Systems Research) examines the organization, financing, and delivery of public health services within communities, and the impact of these services on public health. In 2009, the IG refined the definition, providing specificity about how ‘system’ and ‘services’ are defined. (The ‘public health system’ includes governmental public health agencies engaged in providing the ten essential public health services, along with other public and private sector entities with missions that affect public health. ‘Services’ broadly includes programs, direct services, policies, laws, and regulations designed to protect and promote the public’s health and prevent disease and disability at the population level.)
PHSR is an outgrowth of health systems research (HSR) and our work borrows extensively from HSR’s methodology. So, not surprisingly, a 2009 PHSR IG survey indicated that our IG membership profile is similar to that of the AcademyHealth membership profile, except that more IG members self-identified ‘public health’ as their primary discipline. As might be apparent from the definition of PHSR, this a broad field and our IG membership reflects this breadth. PHSR IG members work in a variety of settings such as university-based research centers, corporations and government agencies. There are also members from every U.S. state as well as 112 international members.
As a relatively new field, our work to date has tended to focus on descriptive studies. More recently, study designs are taking advantage of natural experiments and intervention studies using quasi-experimental designs. To bring focus to this broad field, the National Coordinating Center for PHSSR convened researchers, stakeholders, and funders to create a PHSSR national research agenda. Specific research questions were developed in the 4 key areas of workforce, system structure and performance, financing and economics, and information and technology. Also, part of this agenda is advancing PHSR methods—an effort AcademyHealth has contributed to with its fall PHSR methods webinars.
Recognizing the timeliness, and urgency, to integrate public health and health care delivery systems, AcademyHealth’s Board of Directors identified public and population health as an organizational priority area for 2012-14. For this year’s PHSR IG meeting, to be held June 25-26, the IG advisory committee called for submissions that address this priority, specifically selecting “research that investigates the public health systems’ contribution to population health outcomes, including timely research related to the transforming health system.” (The topic is also covered heavily on the ARM agenda.) I am so pleased with the resultant agenda, which includes panels on bridging the two sectors, funding, evidence-based decision making, community health assessments, and decision-support tools for policy makers. You should expect these panels to be rigorous and have actionable findings. We received 56 abstract submissions for this year’s PHSR IG and only 14 were accepted for oral presentation. An additional 16 abstracts were accepted as poster presentations.
A hallmark of PHSR is identification of immediate translation and dissemination opportunities from our study results. One mechanism through which we’re doing that is through an extensive PHSR Practice-Based Research Network. These networks, now in 24 states, are comprised of local and state governmental public health agencies, community partners, and collaborating academic research institutions. We plan to leverage AcademyHealth’s new Translation and Dissemination Institute in order to cull best practices for these efforts—and perhaps to share successful strategies from PHSR with the broader HSR community. For our June meeting, many of the accepted abstracts identified immediate translation and application strategies. To reinforce the relationship between research and action, all of the PHSR IG meeting panels will include a reaction from a local public health practitioner.
If you’ve never been to the PHSR IG meeting, I invite you attend this year in Baltimore. And if you’re not a member of the PHSR IG, please join me! We plan to be growing for another decade and to celebrating the continued success of the field at the ARM’s 40th anniversary.