University of Maryland Finds New Way to Make the Most Effective Use of Public Health Information

The fight to end the spread of the Zika virus continues to wage on, yet no solid solutions have materialized. In fact, most Americans are still scratching their heads over Congress’s decision to take a summer leave-of-absence without first allocating emergency funding for Zika research and prevention.

As of August 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claimed there were approximately 8,600 reported cases of the Zika virus throughout the US. Now health officials fear that without drastic prevention measures, the virus could soon become a full-blown public health epidemic.

But researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) have recently suggested that access to information, not funding, may prove the best prevention method against the advancement of public health threats like the Zika virus.

In April, the UMD introduced the Public Health Information Technology (PHIT) Maturity Index, an assessment tool designed for public health officials, managers, and departments to measure how effectively information is being shared and put to work to accomplish public health objectives.

Bankrolled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, researchers developed the PHIT Maturity Index after conducting a two-year examination into how Montgomery County, MD used and maintained its electronic health records system.

According to Robert H. Smith Dean’s Chair of Information Systems, Ritu Agarwal, the research team found several disconcerting flaws in the County’s information system stemming from unserviceable software, nonexistent data sharing standards, and undereducated public health workers.

As a result, the researchers constructed the PHIT Maturity Index to function as a questionnaire with an adjoining scoring guide based on four IT categories and 14 subcategories:

Scale and Scope of Use:

  • Nature of use
  • Extent of Use

PHIT Quality:

  • System Quality
  • Information Quality
  • Interoperability and Standards
  • Privacy and Security

PHIT Human Capital, Policy and Resources:

  • Training
  • Competency
  • Policy
  • Innovation and Discovery
  • Resources

PHIT Community Infrastructure:

  • Community Partner Infrastructure
  • Health Information Exchange
  • Integrated Reporting