April 3, 2013 Back to All Blogs

Happy National Public Health Week! Should Public Health Be More Personal?

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is hosting a Twitter chat on the value of public health initiatives this afternoon from 2:00 – 3:00 ET. publichealth_NPHW_ROI

The chat will give public health leaders and advocates from across the country a chance to talk about issues related to the theme of this year’s APHA campaign, “Public Health is ROI: Save Lives, Save Money.”

Could one of the keys to advancing public health efforts be making it more personally relevant?

We see great promise in a “Public Health Graph” (read more here) that uses the same technology that allows LinkedIn, Facebook, Netflix or Amazon to serve up personalized ads or connections based on a user’s preferences and online habits. If it works commercially, why can’t we create a more open, connected online system that connects personal and public health activity and information?

The explosion in personal fitness and other mobile health apps show signs of working against some of our most intractable public health challenges – taking medications on time, eating better, moving more. But collectively they could add up to so much more.

By mapping personal and public health data in a “Public Health Graph” we expand the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control definition of social determinants of health beyond the static “conditions in which people are born, grow, live and age” to something much more actionable. The current Facebook “Like, Listen, Watch, Fitness” can include “Eat and Healthcare (a verb!).” Suddenly social determinants of health become actionable, not despairing destiny. This is particularly true when combined with health care’s “big data” sets like the EPA and CDC’s surveillance of things like air quality, the flu, obesity and HIV/AIDS rates in specific geographies. The statistical becomes seamlessly integrated in your page view and presto – personally relevant.

There are obvious privacy issues to address and financial incentives that encourage the hoarding and siloing of data to overcome. But now is the time to prevent data silos before they start and take root. Haven’t we had enough interoperability hurdles?

We shouldn’t have to wait until 2020 to have another “meaningful use” requirement that encourages physicians to connect to their patients’ online “Health Graph” data.

What do you think? We’ll put tuning into #NPHWchat and have been talking with several leading thinkers and doers to discuss the Public Health Graph’s viability. Share your ideas using #PublicHealthGraph. Together we can change the center of health information gravity to connect the host of public health data to patients in ways that are personally relevant and actionable.

*Also check out: