2024 HIT Connect Public Health Modernization Day Roundtable Discussion

North Highland hosted a roundtable panel discussion at the 2024 HIT Connect Public Health Modernization Mini Conference. Panelists included several state health department leaders and an industry expert in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Approximately 60 attendees representing industry experts from state agencies and the vendor community tuned in. The discussion focused on data modernization, workforce development, and sustainability in Public Health. North Highland’s insights and takeaways from this event are described below.

Data Modernization:

  • The Need for Actionable, Timely Data. State public health experts shared that COVID-19 impacted expectations regarding access to and sharing of real-time public health data and increased the need for data modernization.  To enable and sustain data modernization efforts, panelists recommend that public health agencies focus on establishing well-documented data governance frameworks and aligning data and technology with their business strategy and efforts.
  • Data Governance Frameworks and Clear Processes. Data modernization requires flexible and scalable processes and infrastructure, as well as clear and well-documented data governance frameworks. Public health entities maintain numerous data assets, and a robust framework is essential to ensure data is managed through the entire lifecycle and can be used accurately and effectively across the entire agency with external stakeholders.  It’s a collaborative effort, as panelists highlighted the importance of having the right people at the table including program owners, and representatives from legal, privacy office, IT.
  • Leveraging Emerging Technologies. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning are to be used to solve specific problems in public health. However, isolated, technology-led approaches can result in short-sighted solutions that do not meet future needs. A best practice is to take a moment to step back and understand the broader vision of how the tools scale to meet the broader needs of the organization. Panelists shared that modern technologies can be used to enhance the customer experience. For example, in one state’s WIC program, a virtual assistant (generative AI) helps community members schedule and verify appointments to apply for benefits, helping improve customer service and efficiency.

Public Health Workforce Development:

As public health continues to develop and modernize post-pandemic, and in response to other historic changes, assessing and addressing the training requirements of the public health workforce is essential to respond to the needs of the nation and meet the evolving role of public health. State Departments of Health can start by identifying the most essential skills and capabilities needed to build a strong data-centric culture. These will likely include data analytics, data management, data quality, and technology proficiency skills. In addition, agencies should consider that soft skills, such as communication skills and critical thinking, can be just as important.  

There are many tools states can use to assess staff skills and capabilities. To get a basic understanding of training needs, agencies can consider a data literacy assessment that allow employees to provide information on their ability to use data analytic tools and interpret data to support their job activities. Tools that can then be applied to analyze the assessment responses, including unstructured data, to help provide a holistic view of skill gaps as well as unpack other data such as emotions, cognitive states, and overall sentiment.  


Planning to sustain data modernization initiatives contributes to a project’s long-term success. The panel discussed 5 factors of sustainability:  

  1. Leadership Engagement and Resource Allocation. Leadership commitment to champion initiatives can help to secure necessary funding and resources and ensure alignment to a larger business strategy.
  2. Community Fit and Engagement. A project should collaborate with community members and utilize data sources to understand the community’s needs.  
  3. Partnership Development and Agreements. Long-term agreements, adaptable ways of working, and early engagement of partners support ongoing success and ownership. Partners may include sister state agencies, private businesses, charitable organizations, federally qualified health centers, faith-based organizations, and local government.
  4. Ongoing Outcomes Monitoring. Ongoing data analysis helps to build a story that justifies additional investments. Methods include goal setting in state strategic plans, establishing feedback mechanisms, conducting assessments early and often, and ongoing inclusion of diverse stakeholders.  
  5. Sustainable Funding Strategies. Strategies states have used to replace short-term grant funding include improving grant application processes, identifying underutilized funds, leveraging existing agency tools, securing new reimbursement structures, and identifying recurring local or state-level grants.  

A core function of public health is to provide accurate, timely data to help communities navigate complex public health issues. To keep up with the rapidly changing data landscape, state public health agencies must consider how they will prepare their systems, modify their policies, train and prepare their staff, and most importantly, identify and implement strategies to ensure sustainability.