Public Health System Research in Public Health Emergency Preparedness in the United States (2009-2015): Actionable Knowledge Base

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Abstract

Background

In 2008, the Institute of Medicine released a letter report identifying 4 research priority areas for public health emergency preparedness in public health system research: (1) enhancing the usefulness of training, (2) improving timely emergency communications, (3) creating and maintaining sustainable response systems, and (4) generating effectiveness criteria and metrics.

Objectives

To (1) identify and characterize public health system research in public health emergency preparedness produced in the United States from 2009 to 2015, (2) synthesize research findings and assess the level of confidence in these findings, and (3) describe the evolution of knowledge production in public health emergency preparedness system research.

Search Methods and Selection Criteria

We reviewed and included the titles and abstracts of 1584 articles derived from MEDLINE, EMBASE, and gray literature databases that focused on the organizational or financial aspects of public health emergency preparedness activities and were grounded on empirical studies.

Data Collection and Analysis

We included 156 articles. We appraised the quality of the studies according to the study design. We identified themes during article analysis and summarized overall findings by theme. We determined level of confidence in the findings with the GRADE-CERQual tool.

Main Results

Thirty-one studies provided evidence on how to enhance the usefulness of training. Results demonstrated the utility of drills and exercises to enhance decision-making capabilities and coordination across organizations, the benefit of cross-sector partnerships for successfully implementing training activities, and the value of integrating evaluation methods to support training improvement efforts. Thirty-six studies provided evidence on how to improve timely communications. Results supported the use of communication strategies that address differences in access to information, knowledge, attitudes, and practices across segments of the population as well as evidence on specific communication barriers experienced by public health and health care personnel. Forty-eight studies provided evidence on how to create and sustain preparedness systems. Results included how to build social capital across organizations and citizens and how to develop sustainable and useful planning efforts that maintain flexibility and rely on available medical data. Twenty-six studies provided evidence on the usefulness of measurement efforts, such as community and organizational needs assessments, and new methods to learn from the response to critical incidents.

Conclusions

In the United States, the field of public health emergency preparedness system research has been supported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since the release of the 2008 Institute of Medicine letter report. The first definition of public health emergency preparedness appeared in 2007, and before 2008 there was a lack of research and empirical evidence across all 4 research areas identified by the Institute of Medicine. This field can be considered relatively new compared with other research areas in public health; for example, tobacco control research can rely on more than 70 years of knowledge production. However, this review demonstrates that, during the past 7 years, public health emergency preparedness system research has evolved from generic inquiry to the analysis of specific interventions with more empirical studies.

Public Health Implications

The results of this review provide an evidence base for public health practitioners responsible for enhancing key components of preparedness and response such as communication, training, and planning efforts.

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