Featuring highlights from the NACCHO360 Annual Conference by Kayla Estes-Romero, Metopio

This year’s National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Conference brought together professionals to reflect on the challenges and possibilities of the public health landscape. The discussion aligned with this year’s theme, “Looking to the Future: Reshaping the Public Health System,” and highlighted how city and county public health departments have met the challenges of recent years with innovation and adaptation. New practices bring exciting development to enduring health challenges, as well as new growth and opportunity to the field.

Here are a few take-aways from the conference that make us excited for the future of public health.

1. More people understand the importance of having a strong public health system.

Though city and county public health departments have always been on the frontlines of providing services to protect and strengthen the wellbeing of their communities, this work was brought to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic. Invigorated support for public health departments allows them to meet ongoing challenges, such as staff shortages and unmet community health needs.

Renewed interest in the field of public health also allows departments to expand what is traditionally thought of as public health work. At the conference, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department shared their Trauma Prevention Initiative, which partners with community members to develop anti-violence campaigns and trauma-informed healing centers across 9 different communities. Their work has proven effective for reducing violence and related hospital visits. Effective interventions like this shows policymakers and citizens that public health strategies can make an impact beyond traditional health department priorities.

2. Equity has become a cornerstone of public health department strategic planning and initiatives.

Each day of the NACCHO conference brought new discussions about how to turn health equity plans into structural changes that lead to real improvements in health outcomes, and data was at the center of this conversation. Several presenters, including Dr. Olusimbo K. Ige, MD, MPH from the New York City Department of Public Health, emphasized the importance of focusing on measurable health outcomes in the population, as opposed to program outputs reported by health departments. There is no single measure of health inequity, so departments can only know if they have made an impact on health disparities when they identify, address, and show improvements in disparate health data metrics for their communities.

Data is necessary to measure, visualize, and ultimately address health inequities, but it has to be used responsibly. Presenters shared that health departments must contextualize data with narratives that illuminate structural determinants of health. Clare L. Tanner, PhD, from the Michigan Public Health Institute, explained that data that reinforces negative stereotypes can be harmful by minimizing the impact of structural racism and neglect on health outcomes.

3. The growth of interoperable data systems and de-identified population data will help fuel public health programs.

Finally, we are excited about the potential for shared data systems across institutions. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the importance of breaking down silos to address shared interests in the public’s health. The pandemic, along with growth in the technology sector, has illuminated an untapped resource in public-serving institutions: data.

Every health organization collects data on the population that it serves to get a better picture of the needs and health status of that population. The more data that’s collected, the more effective interventions can be. Sharing patient data for resources and referrals is not new to the health and social services sector. The Rising Equitable Community Data Ecosystems (RECoDE) report explains that this is how most data is shared in the current health data landscape. However, there are now efforts to expand the ability of institutions to share data, while protecting the privacy of patients. The CDC’s Data Modernization Initiative is one such example of these efforts.

Interoperable data systems create many possibilities for collaboration across the healthcare sector and beyond. Deidentified patient data has the potential to greatly improve population health analytics. Making this data accessible to the public allows community-based organizations and regular citizens to visualize and feel empowered to improve health outcomes in their own communities.

Metopio is excited to be part of the ever-developing public health landscape.

At Metopio, we work to make data accessible and useful to changemakers in public health departments, non-profit organizations, healthcare providers, and beyond. Our intuitive data tools make it easy to visualize and understand information across economic, demographic, environmental, social, and healthcare outcome and utilization metrics.

We are happy to be a part of this dynamic field and look forward to partnering with system leaders to build a more equitable, collaborative, and healthy future. To learn more, schedule a strategy session with our team today or request a data snapshot preview for your city here.