Health Datapalooza: Moving from Paper Data We Don’t Use to Electronic Data We Do Use

Jun 4, 2013, 4:13 PM

This year’s Health Datapalooza closed out its fourth annual conference today in Washington, D.C. The confab features new and emerging uses of data by companies, startups, academics, government agencies and individuals, and was borne out of a decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to release some of the health data it collects. This year, the conference included a community health track that looked at emerging tools to improve population health, and recommendations from key public health experts on what’s still needed.

>>For more on the conference, read "Dispatches from Datapalooza" and other conference-related updates over at the Pioneering Ideas blog from the Pioneer Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The session had a world class moderator at the helm in Edward Sondik, PhD, who recently retired as director of the National Center for Health Statistics who set the stage for the session by telling the standing room only audience that “previously most health data applications were focused on the individual, but now we’re seeing data initiatives that can do a great deal to give us more information at the community level.”

Data-sharing resources for community health presented at the session included:

  • Kaiser Permanente’s community health needs assessment data platform, a web-based resource to support community health needs assessments—requirements under the Affordable Care Act, and as part of the application process for national public health department accreditation—as well as for community collaboration toward improving population health. “The tool was designed to help users understand what is driving health in their communities and to prioritize those issues that require the most urgent attention,” said Jean Nudelman, Director of Community Benefits Programs at Kaiser Permanente. The resources include a set of community health indicators that allow users to understand what is driving health outcomes in particular neighborhoods and also allows users to view maps, analyze health indicators and access public health data. Currently Kaiser Permanente hospitals can view data specific to their geographic service areas; future uses will be include the ability to create custom geographic regions for assessment.
  • County Health Rankings & Roadmaps is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute to help communities create solutions that make it easier to be healthy. The rankings of nearly every county in the United States are published annually and focus on specific factors that affect health, such as educating and income. “The advantages to rankings,” said Patrick Remington, MD, MPH, of the Rankings, “is that that they are simple and easy to understand, they get attention from media and public policymakers, and ranking within states increases relevance and interest.”
  • Afshin Khosrav, one of the founders of Trilogy Integrated Resources, presented the company’s Network of Care platform, which he described as “improving information and communication in the health and social service fields at the community level.” The company sells web-based tools to federal, state and local governments and nonprofit, social-service agencies to help connect people with the information and services they need. A recent addition to the platform is The Network of Care for Public Health Assessment and Wellness to measure and track health indicators.

Following the presentation on tools, Sondik invited several key public health experts to offer recommendations and observations on data and public health.

“My biggest concern,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, “is that we generate lots of data that never gets used and now we’re converting from paper data that never gets used to electronic data that doesn’t.” Benjamin urged participants to think about how to get people to use data, who owns the data and whether public health has the skill to manage large data sets.

Other issues raised included the need for city level data. “Often we only have data on members in insurance plans and I am here to plead for easily accessible data for comparison purposes,” said Donald F. Schwarz, Health Commissioner and Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity in Philadelphia.

And at least one discussant pointed out the need to do more than just accumulate data. “I don’t want to discuss the problems anymore, I want solutions at the community level,” said Samuel Kessel, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. In infant mortality, pointed out Kessel, we know a great deal, yet we’re still 24th in the world and we need to know what’s missing in order to make changes, given all the data we possess.

Kessel added that, especially for hard to solve problems, public health needs to be more creative in the data it collects. “I don’t have information on care by zip code, so I don’t know where to put a mobile prenatal care van,” in order to make the move the needle on infant mortality. “We need data that leads us to action and then we need to evaluate those actions.”

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.