The Health Pulse: Linking data sources to see the bigger picture in public health.

On this episode, Greg talks with Dana Bernson, epidemiologist and Director of Special Analytic Projects at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, about her work to use data and analytics to guide public health planning and crisis response. Dana shares insights from the department’s initial effort to link data sources across state government to get more contextual information to help address the opioid epidemic. Not surprisingly, one data set often gives us a piece of the puzzle, but linking multiple data sources at the individual level tells a bigger story. Data linkage is critical to understanding social determinants of health to inform effective policy and intervention. This is also true of the COVID-19 pandemic, where Dana’s team is exploring the impact of the pandemic on underserved populations. Finally, Dana shares an update on what has become known as the Public Health Data Warehouse project, which is a research tool that enables analysis of public health priorities and trends, including substance abuse, and maternal and child health. Dana is hopeful that following the coronavirus crisis, public health will receive more consistent and sustainable funding for projects like hers that ultimately support a more complete and proactive approach to health.

On this episode, Greg talks with Dana Bernson, epidemiologist and Director of Special Analytic Projects at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, about her work to use data and analytics to guide public health planning and crisis response. Dana shares insights from the department’s initial effort to link data sources across state government to get more contextual information to help address the opioid epidemic. Not surprisingly, one data set often gives us a piece of the puzzle, but linking multiple data sources at the individual level tells a bigger story. For example, the department discovered that the risk of overdose following a release from incarceration is 120 times higher than the risk for the general population. Data linkage is critical to understanding social determinants of health to inform effective policy and intervention. This is also true of the COVID-19 pandemic, where Dana’s team is exploring the impact of the pandemic on underserved populations including communities of color, the homeless, people who have been incarcerated, people with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders, and pregnant and postpartum women. Finally, Dana shares an update on what has become known as the Public Health Data Warehouse project, which is a research tool that enables analysis of public health priorities and trends, including substance abuse, and maternal and child health. The warehouse establishes the infrastructure to link 24 data systems, covering 98% of the state population. Dana is hopeful that following the coronavirus crisis, public health will receive more consistent and sustainable funding for projects like hers that ultimately support a more complete and proactive approach to health.
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