Public Health Delivery in the Information Age: The Role of Informatics and Technology

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Aim: Public health systems have embraced health informatics and information technology as a potential transformational tool to improve real-time surveillance systems, communication, and sharing of information among various agencies. Global pandemic outbreaks like Zika and Ebola were quickly controlled due to electronic surveillance systems enabling efficient information access and exchange. However, there is the need for a more robust technology to enhance adequate epidemic forecasting, data sharing, and effective communication. The purpose of this review was to examine the use of informatics and information technology tools and its impact on public health delivery. Method: Investigators searched six electronic databases. These were MEDLINE, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) Complete, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, COMPENDEX, Scopus, and Academic Search Premier from January 2000 to 31 March 2016. Results: A total of 60 articles met the eligibility criteria for inclusion. These studies were organized into three areas as (1) definition of the term public health informatics; (2) type of public health surveillance systems and implications for public health; and (3) electronic surveillance systems functionality, capability, training, and challenges. Our analysis revealed that due to the growing expectations to provide real-time response and population-centered evidence-based public health in this information-driven age there has been a surge in informatics and information technology adoption. Education and training programs are now available to equip public health students and professionals with skills in public health informatics. However, obstacles including interoperability, data standardization, privacy, and technology transfer persist. Conclusion: Re-engineering the delivery of public health is necessary to meet the demands of the 21st century and beyond. To meet this expectation, public health must invest in workforce development and capacity through education and training in informatics.