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Diana Petitti: Taking an Evidence-Based Approach to Public Health

Carrie Vaughan, for HealthLeaders Media, December 2, 2010

"The one-size-fits-all approach is not a very good direction for not only preventive medicine but medicine in general."

In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is Diana Petitti's story.

Early in her career, Diana Petitti, MD, MPH, realized that she was more interested in taking care of populations of patients rather than individual patients. She was attracted to epidemiology and public health, which led to a position as an epidemic intelligence service officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after she completed one year of clinical training. "My career started as a risk factor epidemiologist and evolved into a career focused more on the delivery of healthcare, quality of care, and evidence-based medicine," Petitti says.

Historically, preventive medicine was a specialty in a field that very few people thought of going into, and that the public really wasn't aware of, says Petitti, who is professor of biomedical informatics at Arizona State University and professor of basic medical sciences at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

But today, there is a new vitality to preventive medicine. "People are realizing that it is much better to keep people from getting sick in the first place than to try to make them better once they are sick," Petitti says.

She credits much of this awareness to the massive problem of obesity and hypertension that this country is grappling with. "People realize that we could have started earlier and prevented a massive amount of what is going to be morbidity," she says. "The obesity epidemic has focused both the public and medical profession on the potential of prevention and helping them realize that we don't need to let that happen again."

Follow the evidence
Petitti is also a strong proponent that the healthcare industry needs to constantly reevaluate its practices and treatments in light of new evidence. "It fits directly with not just preventive and evidenced-based medicine, but a broad attempt to apply the principles of evidence and more tailored care across the spectrum, from prevention all the way through treatment," she says. 

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