Georgetown Professor Keynotes European CDC Event

OCTOBER 21, 2014 – A well-known Georgetown public health researcher delivered an invited keynote address last week at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s annual meeting of National Focal Points for Preparedness and Response.

Michael Stoto, PhD, professor of health systems administration and population health at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, spoke October 16 in Stockholm.

“The meeting went very well,” says Stoto, who addressed his research on public health emergency preparedness.  “It included people from each of the European Union’s member countries, as well as individuals from countries in the European Economic Area.”

Capacity and Capability

Stoto says his talk focused on the difference between capacity and capability in terms of handling an emerging public health crisis.

According to his presentation, capacities center on infrastructure, policies and plans, and knowledgeable and trained personnel. Capabilities focus on actions, including the public health system’s ability to identify, characterize, and respond to emergencies.

Capacities are necessary, but not sufficient, for an effective public health emergency response, Stoto says.

Stoto and his research colleagues at Georgetown and Harvard School of Public Health, through funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have focused their research the past six years on how to measure capabilities, particularly as they relate to pandemic influenza outbreaks.

Finding Evidence

The Georgetown researcher says that one piece that has been lacking is the understanding of how the capacity to address an emergency influences a system’s capability to actually handle it.

“We generally don’t have the evidence that connects capacities with capabilities,” he says.

The research team has been working to find better ways to assess a public health system’s level of preparedness through development of emergency scenarios and thorough evaluations of critical incidents.

Rigorous Qualitative Research

Stoto notes that this is an example where rigorous qualitative research is especially necessary.

“The distance between capacity and capability is a good example of this,” says Stoto.  “We need to tease out what we learned about capabilities, because that is what is going to be called on in the future.  This is not about storytelling or laying blame.  The issue is trying to identify something about the ways systems work so that they can do better in similar situations in the future.”

Related to this work on pandemic influenza, Stoto and Georgetown alumna Melissa Higdon (NHS’07), MPH, who majored in health care management & policy, co-edited the forthcoming book The Public Health Response to 2009 H1N1: A Systems Perspective (Oxford, January 2015).

By Bill Cessato