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NCHS Undertakes Systematic Evaluation of Major Programs

Posted on by NCHS

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) is responsible for monitoring the nation’s health. To make sure that its programs are on target to do so requires evaluation and advice from the broader scientific community.

The Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) is a committee charged with providing advice and making recommendations to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the director of NCHS regarding the scientific and technical program goals, objectives, strategies, and priorities of NCHS. BSC provides advice and guidance on statistical and epidemiological research and activities that focus on various health issues. The board also recommends opportunities for NCHS programs to examine and employ new approaches to monitoring and evaluating key public health, health policy, and welfare policy changes.

To provide more program-specific advice and guidance, BSC embarked on a series of program evaluations over the past 2 years, by convening panels of experts to review and evaluate each major NCHS program area. The specific goals of these reviews are to examine the current status, scientific quality, and responsiveness of each program within the context of its mission. These reviews emphasize forward-thinking and future planning, building on current or past program efforts and achievements, to ensure that NCHS remains a vital part of the nation’s health information infrastructure. They are conducted on an interactive basis with each NCHS program, providing an evaluation of its current status and accomplishments, its future plans, and the challenges it faces. Program staff meet with the panel to give a presentation, answer questions, and discuss issues. The panel prepares a report which the program reviews for factual accuracy, and then the report is presented to BSC, which accepts it as submitted or requests additional information. Liaisons from BSC participate in each of the evaluation panels to facilitate communication during the evaluation process and ensure that BSC’s areas of concern are addressed.

Dr. Virginia Cain
Dr. Virginia Cain

The final report emphasizes recommendations for future actions, structural or programmatic changes, and policy and priority shifts. The NCHS program then reviews the recommendations and takes action to implement the recommendations where possible. Sometimes the recommendations can be implemented as originally stated, or modified, depending upon program considerations. Within a year, the NCHS program reports back to BSC on the status of the recommendations and the changes or innovations which have been made.

Evaluations have been conducted and reports prepared on the Division of Vital Statistics, Mortality and Natality programs; the State and Local Area Integrated Telephone Survey and the National Immunization Survey; the National Health Interview Survey; the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; the National Study of Long-Term Care Providers; the National Survey of Family Growth; and the National Hospital Discharge Survey and the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Those reports and more background on the evaluation process are available from the BSC website. Recently, the program review panel on the Office of Research and Methodology met and is preparing its report. The review of the Office of Analysis and Epidemiology will be scheduled later this year to complete the first round of evaluations.

Virginia S. Cain, Ph.D., Director of Extramural Research for NCHS, serves as the Executive Secretary for BSC and is overseeing this program review process. She says that “the program reviews have provided valuable insight and a have contributed significantly to the future planning for each of the NCHS programs.” She indicated that the evaluation process for the second round of program reviews is still to be determined, and that a number of possible approaches are being discussed. She said the second round will build on the initial program reviews and increase the NCHS programs’ responsiveness to the health data needs of the nation.

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