Texas Public Health Laboratory System Assessment (TPHLSA) Report

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The purpose of this report is to identify ways to strengthen the public health laboratory system in Texas through use of the assessment results and collaboration of the laboratory partners throughout the state. 


The assessment was held on February 26 & 27, 2007, at the Commons Building on the J.J. “Jake” Pickle Research Campus in Austin, TX.  The assessment was conducted using the State Public Health Laboratory System Performance Measurement Tool developed by the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) and based on an instrument developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Public Health Performance Standards Program (NPHPSP).  The assessment steering committee included partners from Williamson County, Seton Hospital, City of Austin, Clinical Pathology Laboratories, Natus Medical, Inc., and Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

The NPHPSP was established to identify and measure the components, activities, competencies and capacities of state and local public health systems and local public health governance.  The State Public Health Laboratory System Performance Measurement Program helped users answer questions such as, “What are the components, activities, competencies, and capacities of our state public health laboratory system?” and “How well are the Essential Services and the Essential Public Health Laboratory Functions being provided?”

The results of this assessment identified strengths and weaknesses in the system.  This information will be used to improve and better coordinate public health laboratory activities at the state and local levels.  Additionally, the results provide an understanding of how the state’s public health laboratories and the system within which they are functioning are performing.  This information will help policymakers make better and more effective policy and resource decisions that will help improve the nation’s public health as a whole.  A laboratory system improvement plan will be developed and implemented based on the strengths and weaknesses identified in this assessment.  Watch this website for further details.

Assessment Summary

The conference served as an important tool to improve the public health system by inviting a broad group of stakeholders together to reflect on their roles as system partners.  The assessment identified areas for improvement within the Texas public health laboratory system.  Below is a summary of the findings.  (Items in parenthesis refer to the section of the Essential Service (ES) Instrument Tool used.)

Key indicators identified as strengths are as follows:

  • The SPH Laboratory System provides information to support monitoring of congenital, inherited, and metabolic diseases of public health significance

(ES # 1.2.3);

  • The SPH Laboratory complies with and exceeds all applicable regulations

(ES # 6.2.2);

  • The SPH Laboratory and other appropriate government agencies collaborate to fulfill their enforcement function (ES # 6.3.2);
  • Position requirements for all laboratory position categories within state and local public health laboratories are identified (ES # 8.1.1);
  • The SPH Laboratory System has tools to assess competencies of the workforce
  • (ES # 8.1.2); and
  • The SPH Laboratory System identifies staff development needs (ES # 8.2.1).

Key indicators identified as having only minimal (below 25%) or no activity are as follows:

  • The SPH Laboratory System partners collaborate to strengthen surveillance systems (ES # 1.1.3);
  • The SPH Laboratory System generates reliable information about chronic diseases of public health significance (ES # 1.2.4);
  • The SPH Laboratory System maintains an environment that attracts and retains exceptional staff (ES # 8.3.1);
  • The SPH Laboratory System addresses workforce shortage issues (ES # 8.3.2);
  • The SPH Laboratory System mission, purpose, and range of services are evaluated on a regular basis (ES # 9.1.1);
  • The range of technologies in use by the SPH Laboratory System are periodically surveyed and evaluated, with objective reports shared across the SPH Laboratory System  (ES # 9.1.2);
  • The effectiveness of personal and population-based laboratory services provided throughout the state are regularly determined (ES # 9.2.1);
  • The quality of personal and population-based laboratory services provided throughout the state are regularly determined (ES # 9.2.2); and
  • The level and utility of collaboration among members of the SPH Laboratory System is measured and shared (ES # 9.3.1).

Participants identified steps to be taken to improve the laboratory system.

  • The system must be better defined;
  • Additional meetings of system partners should be held beginning with a strategic planning forum for the public health laboratory system.  The focus of this forum should be to establish a system improvement plan.  The plan should consist of the following components:
    • Establish a vision and mission for the SPH Laboratory System.
    • Identify and prioritize goals for improvement of the SPH Laboratory System by:
  • Developing system plans and policies;
  • Establishing collaborative networks;
  • Creating a secure, accountable and compatible information network;
  • Conducting on going evaluation and analysis of the system to allow opportunities for improvement and to identify gaps;
  • Improving the quality and education of the workforce; and
  • Building an infrastructure for research and development of new and better systems.
  • Develop implementation strategies.

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Contact Information

For more information on the Texas Public Health Laboratory Systems Assessment (TPHLSA), contact Katherine Vonalt at the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) at (512) 458-7111 extension 6191 or by e-mail at Katherine Vonalt.

Laboratory Services Section
Department of State Health Services
Mail Code 1947
1100 West 49th Street
Austin, TX 78756

Last Updated October 22, 2008

Last updated May 7, 2010