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Navigating the evidentiary turn in public health: Sensemaking strategies to integrate genomics into state-level chronic disease prevention programs


  • Senier, Laura
  • Smollin, Leandra
  • Lee, Rachael
  • Nicoll, Lauren
  • Shields, Michael
  • Tan, Catherine


In the past decade, healthcare delivery has faced two major disruptions: the mapping of the human genome and the rise of evidence-based practice. Sociologists have documented the paradigmatic shift towards evidence-based practice in medicine, but have yet to examine its effect on other health professions or the broader healthcare arena. This article shows how evidence-based practice is transforming public health in the United States. We present an in-depth qualitative analysis of interview, ethnographic, and archival data to show how Michigan's state public health agency has navigated the turn to evidence-based practice, as they have integrated scientific advances in genomics into their chronic disease prevention programming. Drawing on organizational theory, we demonstrate how they managed ambiguity through a combination of sensegiving and sensemaking activities. Specifically, they linked novel developments in genomics to a long-accepted public health planning model, the Core Public Health Functions. This made cutting edge advances in genomics more familiar to their peers in the state health agency. They also marshaled state-specific surveillance data to illustrate the public health burden of hereditary cancers in Michigan, and to make expert panel recommendations for genetic screening more locally relevant. Finally, they mobilized expertise to help their internal colleagues and external partners modernize conventional public health activities in chronic disease prevention. Our findings show that tools and concepts from organizational sociology can help medical sociologists understand how evidence-based practice is shaping institutions and interprofessional relations in the healthcare arena.

Suggested Citation

  • Senier, Laura & Smollin, Leandra & Lee, Rachael & Nicoll, Lauren & Shields, Michael & Tan, Catherine, 2018. "Navigating the evidentiary turn in public health: Sensemaking strategies to integrate genomics into state-level chronic disease prevention programs," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 211(C), pages 207-215.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:211:y:2018:i:c:p:207-215
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.06.026

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    References listed on IDEAS

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