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Importance of Data Collection in Public Health

April 14, 2024

The daily decisions and long-term career choices of healthcare professionals all rely on data. Additionally, accurate and organized data is critical to helping patients, understanding public health crises, and developing solutions based on population-wide epidemiological data. 

Then there is the industry of big data analytics. This market is worth approximately $103 billion as of 2023, and 97 percent of businesses invest in big data, including many in the public health sector. Correctly using information for public health means understanding the importance of data collection and how it benefits students of public health, professionals in the industry, and patients through multidisciplinary approaches.

The Importance of Data Collection in Public Health

Many industries use data collection strategies to understand their clients, customers, and employees. In public health, data collection can contribute to more efficient communication and improved disease and injury prevention strategies. Data in this particular area of health care can also include information about community-wide beliefs and attitudes, local resources, and other contextual issues.

Unstructured data may be collected, but the lack of organization makes it difficult to analyze and implement. A key component of data collection in public health is having a clear organization system to allow patient data to be easily shared with relevant healthcare professionals.

Privacy and Data Collection

The nature of data collection in public health requires professionals to safely store patient information and only share it with relevant parties. Healthcare professionals and anyone working in public health must carefully review the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This privacy rule is meant to ensure data is collected, stored, analyzed, and shared responsibly. Anyone handling patient data and other protected forms of medical data must review HIPAA rules and any other relevant regulations before collecting or accessing data.

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The Benefits of Public Health Data Collection

Making data-driven decisions is virtually impossible without relevant, up-to-date information. Whether tracking the spread of disease, informing the public on the latest prevention strategies, or promoting public health throughout the population, professionals must understand the importance of data collection as they collaborate with other public health practitioners from various disciplines. Below are some of the key benefits that are realized when public health data is gathered in a centralized, responsible, and safe way.

Streamlines Communication

When public health professionals have to request access to separate databases for medical data, it can result in an inefficient, disjointed data analysis process. Storing data in a single location, while still following HIPPA requirements, encourages efficient communication. Professionals can review the full health history of a patient in one place and explore community-wide health data trends.

Encourages Data-Driven Decisions

Some individual illnesses and community-wide outbreaks can be prevented with prompt responses from healthcare professionals. Quality data can dramatically improve the abilities of healthcare leaders in analyzing trends that show early warning signs of an illness or outbreak. Data-driven decisions are crucial to protecting patients and exploring community-wide health strategies.

Reduces Costs

The importance of data collection in leveraging data-driven insights is crucial. It can reduce both the time and the cost of public health initiatives. By first learning more about current public health dynamics, health leaders can focus their time and resources on providing essential services that target community needs confirmed by data.

Well organized data is particularly effective at reducing costs because it can decrease the time it takes to communicate between facilities and professionals and streamline the process of allocating appropriate health resources. High-quality data stored in an efficient database can also reduce the likelihood of errors in data entry, which can lead to costly mistakes in a healthcare setting.

Offers Opportunities for Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a rapidly growing topic in the healthcare industry and many other industries. Ascension, one of the largest private healthcare systems in the U.S., and the Mayo Clinic are two examples of healthcare organizations exploring ways AI can support clinical decision making.

Multidisciplinary Areas That Inform Public Health Research

How do public health professionals gather data? The importance of data collection hinges on not only the safety and extent of data collected but also on the relevance of the information. Below are a few of the medical disciplines from which public health leaders collect relevant data.

  • Biology
  • Biostatistics
  • Epidemiology
  • Human and social sciences
  • Toxicology
  • Genetics

Data Collection Approaches

There are many strategies for collecting data in various medical disciplines. Public health leaders and researchers should carefully consider the methods used to gather data to better understand how to organize and implement that information. The following are the most common sources for collecting healthcare data.

  • Population surveys
  • Environmental data
  • Notifiable disease registries
  • Case-control studies
  • Morbidity registries
  • Cohort studies
  • Medical-administrative databases
  • Cross-cutting studies

Distinct data collection methods and sources can help broaden the scope of the data. Access to a broad range of qualitative and quantitative data is particularly important for public health leaders who explore community-wide strategies related to health care and disease prevention.

Discover More Ways to Improve Public Health Outcomes

If you wish to learn more about the importance of data collection as a public health professional, consider enrolling in the Tulane University Online Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in Leadership, Advocacy, and Equity program. The curriculum includes exploring and advancing strategies for collecting, analyzing, and implementing data to protect communities. 

Take the next step in your career journey — with a globally recognized DrPH program focused on collaborating with experts, serving communities, and preparing equity-minded advocates for careers in public health.

Advance Your Public Health Career with a DrPH in Leadership, Advocacy & Equity

Pursue Your Degree Online From Tulane University
Find Out More

Recommended Readings

The Role of Leadership in Public Health Advocacy

DrPH vs. PhD: What’s the Difference?

Effective Leadership in Public Health: Essential Skills


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, How Data Authority Improves Public Health

Foresee Medical, Importance of Data Collection in Healthcare

Inserm, Public Health Research

TechReport, “30 Impressive Big Data Statistics for 2023”

Rural Health Information Hub, Data Collection Strategies

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule

World Health Organization, Understanding Global Health Through Data Collection