Public Health has a long and storied history of increasing capacity and resilience in communities. 

More formally, public health is described as organized efforts to promote health, prevent disease, and improve quality of life for the population as a whole (1). This concentration on the population distinguishes it from clinical care with its focus on individual patients. Québec’s 2001 Public Health Act delineates the roles clearly: "Public health actions must be directed at protecting, maintaining or enhancing the health status and wellbeing of the general population and shall not focus on individuals except insofar as such actions are taken for the benefit of the community as a whole or a group of individuals.”(2)
From its modern origins in England during a cholera outbreak, public health has depended on health information to inform action. As formal governance structures emerged to provide organized responses to threats like tuberculosis, the need for information increased to inform and measure the effectiveness of regulations.
To add to the complexity, public health has always relied heavily on a wide range of inter-sectoral partnerships, integrating data from various sources and using information to educate and unite stakeholders in common objectives such as smoking cessation. In this age of digital health and rapidly emerging technologies, coupled with increasingly rapid migration, the landscape is only becoming more complex. There are more partners, more sources of data, and more desire for evidence to direct effective public health efforts in detection and prevention of threats.  

Many public health organizations have made significant investments in the implementation of electronic information systems: now is time to use the data effectively. Let’s make a positive impact.

Public health has a broad mandate and limited resources. Timely, focused data capture, analysis and use allows organizations to rapidly identify public health issues and define responses. It also drives detection of urgent health risks or broader systemic challenges that compel stakeholders to engage in program development and define sustainable intervention strategies.

Public Health Intelligence is a common term these days. It is the use of data collected as part of services provided and used to make programs better. More specifically, it can be applied in addition to your public health information systems to:

  • Improve situational awareness of disease incidence and prevalence to identify short-term interventions, such as immunization clinics for at- risk populations, and inform strategic priorities

  • Provide timely information dissemination - the right data to the right people at the right time – in an easily consumable format that supports and helps guide action

  • Build a common understanding of issues in a community to align the resources and responses to create meaningful and measurable health outcomes and care delivery improvements

  • Integrate multiple information sources (e.g. population, geographic, and inventory financial data) to support timely and rich research and analysis to drive more efficient and effective prevention and outbreak management efforts 

For more information please contact the Branch Office nearest you, or:

Marty Pearce, Public Health Practice Leader


1 - World Health Organization: Public Health

2 - Public Health Act R.S.Q., 2001 c60, s5.