Policy Surveillance: A Vital Public Health Practice Comes of Age

In a new article published today in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, Scott Burris, Laura Hitchcock, Jennifer Ibrahim, Matthew Penn and Tara Ramanathan make the case for the practice of policy surveillance to improve public health.

Though widely used, legal “treatments” for public health promotion and protection are too often applied to large populations without timely evaluation or even systematic monitoring. When we implement programmatic interventions in health, we demand evaluation. We should demand no less for legal interventions.

Policy surveillance can help end the inconsistent treatment law receives in public health research and practice. Policy surveillance is the systematic, scientific collection and coding of important laws of public health significance.

Beyond the necessary act of evaluation, policy surveillance meets many other important needs: It creates data suitable for use in rigorous evaluation studies, addresses the chronic lack of readily accessible, nonpartisan information about the status and trends In health legislation and policy, and provides the opportunity to build policy capacity in the public health workforce.

The authors trace legal mapping and its growing importance as it emerged simultaneously over the past 50 years in both traditional legal practice and evaluation research. The article discusses the convergence of the fields to create policy surveillance, and identify future challenges and opportunities.

Read online at the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.

Learn more about policy surveillance and Burris’s program at LawAtlas.org.

Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research

Based at the Temple University Beasley School of Law, the Center for Public Health Law Research supports the widespread adoption of scientific tools and methods for mapping and evaluating the impact of law on health. It works by developing and teaching public health law research and legal epidemiology methods (including legal mapping and policy surveillance); researching laws and policies that improve health, increase access to care, and create or remove barriers to health (e.g., laws or policies that create or remove inequity); and communicating and disseminating evidence to facilitate innovation.

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