Innovative Approaches to Improve Precision in Public Health

A recent All In: Data for Community Health webinar featured two projects led by public health departments in Chicago and Baltimore. These health departments, in collaboration with researchers and community partners, are using methods like predictive analytics and hotspotting to target resources more efficiently and working to create a culture of innovation by using data-driven approaches to examine community health trends at the local level.

Raed Mansour, Director of the Office of Innovation at the Chicago Department of Public Health, shared how he first worked with partners to develop a predictive model to identify young children at risk of being lead poisoned. Mike Fried, Chief Information Officer at the Baltimore City Health Department, described a city-wide effort to track fall-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations to inform new programs and policies. Below are some of the key takeaways they shared with others interested in embarking on similar innovative strategies.

1. To create a culture of innovation, start small

Mansour shared that sometimes it’s beneficial to start with a few small innovations before creating an official office of innovation. He said, “When you try to create an office first, it’s hard to know where to start and there is less room to experiment. Innovation usually starts from a need—whether it be limited resources, bandwidth, or sustainability.” Furthermore, an understanding of the current processes and where there are opportunities to improve accuracy and efficiency will help to gain buy-in and build a culture of innovation over.

2. Gain support from people in key leadership positions

Fried recalled that gaining buy-in from leadership within his agency was key to move innovations forward and specifically noted support from Baltimore’s Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, who intentionally makes space for these types of projects. He noted, “As with any large bureaucracy, there will inevitably be challenges, but executive sponsorship can help the work progress more quickly, especially when there is no established ‘office of innovation.’”

3. Innovation is a top-down, bottom-up process

Mansour specified that starting any innovation process requires buy-in from leadership, but also from the people who will ultimately do the work. He advised not to disrupt workflows just for the sake of disruption, but rather to be thoughtful about how to get people to work with you at all levels. Innovation occurs best across different teams and departments and can’t function effectively in a silo. Mansour advised that sometimes, you will have to innovate “inside the box” – within the current policies, procedures, and regulations – that exist within the system. Doing so can also help to illuminate areas that can be improved and gaps that can be addressed through more innovative approaches.

4. Engage community partners by sharing actionable data

Fried sees the health department’s role as helping his community partners turn information into action. The health department brings together organizations working with seniors to discuss how aggregate data from the local Health Information Exchange helps to identify “hot spot” areas where falls rates among seniors are high. When partners see that their neighborhood has particularly high rates as compared others, it helps rally them around a shared plan of action. Making the data meaningful to leaders in the community can spur innovation from the ground up.

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