Public Health meet Health Care Delivery, online

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Sarah Arnquist
Sarah Arnquist is editor and co-founder of the Global Health Hub. She is a health policy consultant in California. Previously, she worked in global health research at Harvard University and before that as a newspaper reporter, contributing to the New York Times and other print and online publications. She has a master’s degree in public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
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Venues for professional public health exchange have traditionally included academic conferences and published literature. Until recently, few alternatives existed to gather researchers and implementers for meaningful and timely knowledge exchange. At the cross section of public health and health delivery, this need for a web-based, no-fee forum is paramount.

Using online communities to promote health and engage communities – of either professionals or patients – was the topic of a session Monday at the American Public Health Association’s annual conference.

Panelists presented research conducted on why and how patients use professional communities, how to use storytelling to teach people about public health, and then I spoke about GHD’s use of “Virtual Expert Panels” on GHDonline.org.

As you know, there are no global health delivery textbooks that teach how to identify and solve problems, let alone implement locally driven, sustainable and scalable solutions. As we increasingly try to tackle these problems, unintended duplication of efforts is rampant. Often, there is inadequate communication between researchers and implementers, even among those working in the same country or city.

While access to good information is essential, information overload can also be a problem – searching for background on a topic can feel like drinking from a fire hose. There’s a need for support to efficiently find reliable, applicable, and accessible information. That’s where GHDonline comes in.

GHDonline is a platform of expert-led communities where health care implementers collaborate to improve the delivery of health care. The concept seems relatively intuitive and even simple. In practice, however, getting busy professionals to share their expertise and have online discussions can be challenging and requires dedicated staff support.

To provide structure around conversations, the GHD team developed “virtual expert panels.” These time-limited discussions are led by a handful of recruited experts. Essentially, they’re like the panel at an in-person conference only now they’re contributing at a time and place convenient for them, and the discussion is open to any GHDonline member.

Each discussion is summarized into a “discussion brief” that provides busy people a quick overview of key points and links to useful background research. For example, panelists from Boston, Uganda and South Africa led a discussion in 2011 on the “Promises and Pitfalls of Putting PrEP into Practice.” Members discussed risks and benefits of implementing PrEP, depending on patients’ risk profiles; acceptability among clinicians and patients; and topic areas for future research. More than 20 panels have been organized so far. The goal is to make these useful, broad, and practical. For instance, panels addressed training capacity for pre-hospital trauma care in developing countries, OpenMRS implementation, and one is coming up next week, November 5-9, on Training Nurse Leaders in the Nursing community.

If you’d like to suggest a virtual panel, please contact the GHDonline team.

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