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Public Health Systems and Services Research: Building the Evidence Base to Improve Public Health Practice

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Public health services and systems research (PHSSR) is the American designation for a field that uses a number of research disciplines and perspectives to examine the organization of public health systems, how they are financed, how they deliver public health services, the quality and costs of services they deliver, and the impact of variations in all these areas on population health; it is closely related to health services research (HSR), and uses many of the same methods as HSR. This article traces the developmental path of PHSSR, identifies organizations that have been critical in its growth, provides examples of PHSSR that demonstrate the potential it has to improve public health practice, and discusses the future of PHSSR and the use of PHSSR to influence public policy. While there have been sporadic attempts to examine the public health system in the United States since the early 20th century, PHSSR has only been a formally recognized area of scientific inquiry since the early 2000s. PHSSR has experienced rapid growth, and evolved from mainly descriptive research to inferential research, and towards yielding results that suggest causation rather that correlation. While PHSSR as a field shows great promise to improve public health practice, in order for it to fulfill that promise it is vital that PHSSR produce results that are of use to the practice and policy making communities.


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Correspondence to F. Douglas Scutchfield MD.

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Key Words

  • Public health
  • public health practice
  • public health systems and services research