Role of Biostatistics in Public Health

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Biostatistics is a field of study concerned with the analysis of numerical data gathered from biological, biomedical and healthcare-related research or studies. It is said to be a “servant of the sciences” (Gerstman, 2008, p.1) due its broad range of application and functions as a means to weigh evidence and draw conclusions based on available numerical data. However it is more than just compiling and using computational techniques. In fact biostatistics is a scholarly and logical way to discern patterns and evaluate responses.

Its primary goals are to improve the intellectual content of the data gathered, organize the data into a form that is understandable and create a standard of validity through reliance on test experience (Gerstman, 2008, p.1). With the use of biostatistics, the researcher is turned into a “data detective” who finds patterns and clues while at the same time functioning as a “judge” who decides whether these data can be trusted and used (Gerstman, 2008, p.1). This is primarily how biostatistics affect the sciences it serves.

For example, in the field of public health and epidemiology biostatistics serve as a tool by which public health workers and epidemiologists can gauge, evaluate and predict the general health of their respective localities. By studying census records, birth rates, morbidity and mortality rates etc., the public health worker or epidemiologist will be able to paint a general health picture of his area and deduce health practices, predict disease patterns and point out health threats. Biostatistics is primarily used in treating the data gathered and generated from surveys and comparative studies performed by the public health worker or epidemiologist (Gerstman, 2008, p.15).

However, the use of biostatistics in this field is not limited to quantifying population characteristics or relationships between variables. It can be used as a means of diagnosing individual and community health problems such as estimating cancer risks (Mayo Clinic, 2007) or used as a means to gauge how well diseases are now controlled via studies such as People Living with HIV: Better Data, Better Estimates or Tuberculosis Control: Towards Goals and Targets released by the World Health Organization (WHO) (World Health Statistics, 2007, p. 11, 18).

Furthermore public health care workers and epidemiologist can use their knowledge of biostatistics in designing and assessing programs and policies developed for the community. The combined use of surveys and statistics can measure reception as well as progress of such programs. Additionally knowing how to understand data generated from studies will equip the professional in adapting the results of these studies into his/her own area of responsibility. It will also provide a window of opportunity to further understand predominant health behaviors/practices and disease outbreaks.

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