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Open Access Correspondence

Reusable design: A proposed approach to Public Health Informatics system design

Blaine Reeder1*, Rebecca A Hills2, George Demiris12, Debra Revere3 and Jamie Pina2

Author Affiliations

1 Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems, School of Nursing, Box 359442, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

2 Medical Education and Biomedical Informatics, School of Medicine, Box 357240, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

3 Department of Health Services, School of Public Health, Box 354943, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:116  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-116

Published: 18 February 2011



Since it was first defined in 1995, Public Health Informatics (PHI) has become a recognized discipline, with a research agenda, defined domain-specific competencies and a specialized corpus of technical knowledge. Information systems form a cornerstone of PHI research and implementation, representing significant progress for the nascent field. However, PHI does not advocate or incorporate standard, domain-appropriate design methods for implementing public health information systems. Reusable design is generalized design advice that can be reused in a range of similar contexts. We propose that PHI create and reuse information design knowledge by taking a systems approach that incorporates design methods from the disciplines of Human-Computer Interaction, Interaction Design and other related disciplines.


Although PHI operates in a domain with unique characteristics, many design problems in public health correspond to classic design problems, suggesting that existing design methods and solution approaches are applicable to the design of public health information systems. Among the numerous methodological frameworks used in other disciplines, we identify scenario-based design and participatory design as two widely-employed methodologies that are appropriate for adoption as PHI standards. We make the case that these methods show promise to create reusable design knowledge in PHI.


We propose the formalization of a set of standard design methods within PHI that can be used to pursue a strategy of design knowledge creation and reuse for cost-effective, interoperable public health information systems. We suggest that all public health informaticians should be able to use these design methods and the methods should be incorporated into PHI training.