Keeneland Conference Q&A: Debra Perez of RWJF

Apr 18, 2012, 4:05 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

DebraPérez Debra Pérez, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Debra Joy Pérez, MA, MPA, PhD, assistant vice president for Research and Evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was a keynote speaker at the Keeneland Conference yesterday and spoke about the evolution of public health services and systems research (PHSSR). NewPublicHealth asked Debra Pérez about that evolution.

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NPH: Why is the field of PHSSR a priority for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation?

Debra Pérez: Right now, I think more than ever we need evidence to provide decision-makers with the evidence for how best to apply limited resources. We know in the last year alone over 40,000 public health jobs were eliminated, so that means that health departments are struggling with staffing and infrastructure issues, and they need evidence to help them best apply the limited resources they have now.

NewPublicHealth: What’s the scope of the conference this year compared to previous years?

Debra Pérez: We’re gathering this year in stronger numbers than ever before, and we’ve have some great pre-meeting events in areas such as public health workforce development, and a meeting of the advisory group for practice-based research networks. PHSSR is a growing field, we’re engaging more people and it’s clear that the evidence is becoming ever more important and making a difference.

NPH: One of the keynote speakers is Richard Umbdenstock, the president and CEO of the American Hospital Association. Why is it important to have someone representing the healthcare community on the conference agenda?

Debra Pérez: Having Mr. Umbdenstock address the Keeneland Conference puts the conference squarely in the intersection of public health and healthcare—a critical juncture these days. What the health care and hospital systems are realizing is that to reduce costs and make wise investments, they have to work with health departments, because where dollars are saved is at the prevention level. Through the Affordable Care Act, there is an incentive for health care systems to pay attention to public health and to work together.

NPH: This year’s conference also saw the launch of a new, online open access journal, Frontiers in Public Health Services and Systems Research, that will offer brief, peer-reviewed descriptions of preliminary findings. Tell us a bit about the new journal.

Debra Pérez: I think that the new online journal is one of the most exciting things coming out of the conference. Too often good research and evidence gets delayed because of the peer review process. The process has merit, but also has drawbacks. It can take seventeen years to move from published studies to implementation in the field. We’re trying, through the electronic platform, to accelerate the dissemination of results.

NPH: How has PHSSR evolved that makes it such a critical part of the evidence base for public health?

Debra Pérez: Previously, the field of PHSSR was in the hypothesis stage. Now the PHSSR agenda has been defined, thanks to the work of hundreds of people working for the last year and a half, and we know with more clarity where the field is headed.

And we see signs of evidence being applied to decision-making, for example the study published by Glen Mays and Sharla Smith last year on that showed that preventing disease and injury is cost-effective.

NPH: Why is the research agenda so important?

Debra Pérez: It’s critical that the research agenda has input from so many individuals attached to the field, including the practice and policy communities. Everyone has seen it and had a say and you can see that we tried to cover as much breadth as depth. It covers issues ranging from public health finance and return on investment, to the public health workforce.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.