Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Lexington, Kentucky and to attend my first Keeneland Conference, an already iconic event that brings together all the folks who do, and care about, Public Health Services and Systems Research (PHSSR). This is more than a field; it is a movement and a tight knit but growing community. Led by F. Douglas Scutchfield (known to all as ‘Scutch’) and Glen Mays, both senior faculty from the University of Kentucky, this movement has grown in large part because of the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the remarkable recognition by public health practitioners that they need rigorous evidence to do their best with highly constrained resources. Keeneland’s participants traveled from all corners of the country. They are at every level of career, many disciplines, and are hearteningly diverse in terms of race and ethnicity. I had a chance to hear fine presentations and examine posters at a leisurely pace, and to think, talk, and plot future collaborations. Thirty minute breaks between sessions made networking possible without having to miss out on presentations. I was most taken by the plenary speakers, which included Joe Selby from PCORI; Bill Roper, who has had every position in both public health and health care during his long career; and Paul Kuehnert, from RWJF. All the keynoters were thought provoking and inspiring, but I was particularly impressed with Paul. A pediatric nurse practitioner by training, his thought provoking suggestions for ‘re-imagining public health’ suggest that the Foundation’s new public health team lead has his finger right on the pulse. Paul suggested that “the same old same old” won’t work in a time of both resource constraints and emerging opportunities. His response to the ACA was a call to action to the research, practice, and policy communities. Bill Roper, borrowing from AcademyHealth Board Member Eduardo Sanchez, noted that public health has largely been, until now, about “Sinks and Toilets,” i.e. sanitation. The 19th century is over; the 21st society is much more complex and so are our health problems. To me, this means that public health needs be consistently and strategically involved with communities of all kinds, with health care providers of all kinds, and with new ideas. We have to figure out how to improve population health beyond just largely invisible “health protection” activities (though those are clearly essential). We also need interactions that will put public health in view. Or, as Paul suggested, public health leaders need to become the "Chief Health Strategists of their communities." A major conference theme was dissemination. How can we produce, translate, and disseminate research that helps the field to be become much better at implementing policies and services that work, while simultaneously building public health’s credibility and attracting necessary, but scarce, resources? PHSSR, in emphasizing work with Practice Based Research Networks, has found a key strategy to influence practice. Influencing policy is a bigger lift. Few public health researchers have formal training in how policy gets made. They don’t naturally gravitate to research questions that policy makers might find compelling, which is where evidence feeds into urgent decisions. AcademyHealth can certainly contribute here. Our members, the new Translation and Dissemination Institute, and our connections to policymakers in Washington position us uniquely to both inform, and to listen to, policymaker needs. My graduate education melded public health and health care. So has my career. I call on my fellow researchers in both fields to put their heads together and bring the learning of each field to the other. This is especially important as we try to better integrate public health and medical care, as we reach for improvements in population health as part of the Triple Aim, and as the structure and financing of health care changes in both evolutionary and revolutionary ways. I’m looking forward to continued interaction with the PHSSR community at the Interest Group Meeting in Baltimore on June 25-26. I urge you to attend that meeting, and to join what is now AcademyHealth’s now largest IG! I also plan to come back to Keeneland (and not just for the bourbon). These folks, especially the younger ones, are too interesting, too determined, and too inspired to ignore. I want to become a member of this emerging research community, and bring what I can to them as an old-timer in health service and policy research. Join me. --Shoshanna Sofaer, Dr.P.H.   Dr. Sofaer is Robert P. Luciano Professor of Health Care Policy, School of Public Affairs, Baruch College, CUNY, and a senior fellow for public health research translation at AcademyHealth, where she is supporting new initiatives to increase the use of evidence to inform public and population health policy. 

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