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Research vs. Public Health Practice

The majority of public health practices (e.g., public health surveillance, and the implementation and evaluation of disease prevention and control projects) are based on scientific evidence, data collection and analytic methods similar to those used in research. They are not, however, designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge. Their primary purpose is to protect the health of the population through such activities as disease surveillance, prevention, or control.


For the most part, the term public health practice refers to interventions that are designed solely to enhance the well being of the community with a reasonable expectation of success. The purpose of these interventions is to provide identification, prevention, and treatment to either an individual or the community at-large.


Public health activity undertaken at CDPHE may be either public health practice or research (or may include a component that involves research activities).


  • If the activity is public health practice, it is not subject to IRB review or the provisions of federal regulation 45 CFR 46.
  • If the activity is research or contains a component of research, it is subject to IRB review and the provisions of federal regulation 45 CFR 46. However, in addition to outlining the requirements for protection of human subjects, the federal regulation also identifies categories of research that may be exempt from IRB review. The IRB chair must review the study protocol in order to determine whether the criteria for exemption are met.


Additional guidance on defining the difference between Research and Public Health Practice may be found at the following websites: