Using systems science to inform population health strategies in local health departments: A case study in San Antonio, Texas

Yan Li, Norma A. Padrón, Anil T. Mangla, Pamela G. Russo, Thomas Schlenker, José A. Pagán

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Because of state and federal health care reform, local health departments play an increasingly prominent role leading and coordinating disease prevention programs in the United States. This case study shows how a local health department working in chronic disease prevention and management can use systems science and evidence-based decision making to inform program selection, implementation, and assessment; enhance engagement with local health systems and organizations; and possibly optimize health care delivery and population health. Methods: The authors built a systems-science agent-based simulation model of diabetes progression for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, a local health department, to simulate health and cost outcomes for the population of San Antonio for a 20-year period (2015-2034) using 2 scenarios: 1 in which hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) values for a population were similar to the current distribution of values in San Antonio, and the other with a hypothetical 1-percentage-point reduction in HbA1c values. Results: They projected that a 1-percentage-point reduction in HbA1c would lead to a decrease in the 20-year prevalence of end-stage renal disease from 1.7% to 0.9%, lower extremity amputation from 4.6% to 2.9%, blindness from 15.1% to 10.7%, myocardial infarction from 23.8% to 17.9%, and stroke from 9.8% to 7.2%. They estimated annual direct medical cost savings (in 2015 US dollars) from reducing HbA1c by 1 percentage point ranging from $6842 (myocardial infarction) to $39 800 (endstage renal disease) for each averted case of diabetes complications. Conclusions: Local health departments could benefit from the use of systems science and evidence-based decision making to estimate public health program effectiveness and costs, calculate return on investment, and develop a business case for adopting programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-555
Number of pages7
JournalPublic Health Reports
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Agent-based modeling
  • Diabetes
  • Local health departments
  • Population health
  • Systems science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Using systems science to inform population health strategies in local health departments: A case study in San Antonio, Texas'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this