Health Departments’ Use of Science in Decision-Making

Faculty; Public Health

Systematic reviews of scientific literature and scientific reports are the scientific resources most likely to be used by local health departments in their decision-making, according to a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Investigators conducted an on-line survey of 849 leaders and staff members of local health departments to determine which decision-making resources were most important to them. Funding guidance was reported as important by most of respondents, while about half cited guidance by a state health agency.

Reviews of scientific literature (25%) and scientific reports (16%) were the highest ranked among scientific resources. Respondents from larger health departments and those with graduate degrees were more likely to rank science higher.

“These results suggest that decision-making practices may be difficult to modify without support from authoritative sources,” wrote the study’s lead author, Robert P. Fields, MPH, of the Prevention Research Center at the Brown School. The study suggests that funders and state health departments provide incentives to local health departments to encourage the use of evidence-based decision-making.

The study was supervised by Dr. Ross C. Brownson, Bernard Becker Professor at the Brown School and Director of the Prevention Research Center. It was published on-line Feb. 17 in the American Journal of Public Health.

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