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Hawaii J Med Public Health. 2013 Dec;72(12):440-4.

Insights in public health: systems thinking: basic constructs, application challenges, misuse in health, and how public health leaders can pave the way forward.

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Head, Health Policy and Management, Office of Public Health Studies, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Honolulu, HI.


The strengthening of health systems is fundamental to improving health outcomes, crisis preparedness, and our capacity to meet global challenges, such as accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, reducing maternal and child mortality, combating HIV, malaria and other diseases, limiting the effects of a new influenza pandemic, and responding appropriately to climate change. To meet these complex needs, the Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health, the World Health Organization, and the Institute of Medicine promote systems thinking as the only sensible means to respond to issues that greatly exceed the normal capacity of health and medical services. This paper agrees with the application of systems thinking but argues that health organizations have misunderstood and misapplied systems thinking to the extent that the term has become meaningless. This paper presents the basic constructs of systems thinking, explains why systems thinking has been misapplied, examines some misapplications of systems thinking in health, and suggests how the concept can be applied correctly to medicine and public health to achieve the reason it was adopted in the first place.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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