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Two Clicks Lead to Wealth of Public Health Information: Online tool gives quick picture of Georgia's community health needs

December 13, 2013

Orginally published May 06, 2013

 

The Office of Health Indicators for Planning (OHIP) at the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) wants to let you in on a little secret: you may be spending more time than you need to analyzing and organizing data. A new Web-based tool can gather easy-to-understand information on the health needs of communities across Georgia in just a couple of mouse clicks.

The  Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) Dashboard -- housed on OASIS, the Online Analytical Statistical Information System -- parses public health data county by county and lets users compare outcomes for one county to rates for the whole state. That may not sound particularly groundbreaking, but according to OHIP, the tool is unlike the others on OASIS.

"In two clicks you can get information from the CHNA dashboard that otherwise would take six months to prepare," said Gordon Freymann, OHIP's director, who came up with the idea for the dashboard.

The dashboard allows users to select one or more counties and view the top 15 causes of death, hospital discharges or emergency room visits and compare those rates to the other 158 counties in Georgia and to the rate for the whole state. The tool can give even more detailed assessment of a community's health issues by breaking down data by age and race.

The tool is not only comprehensive and fast, it's eye-catching. Each data point is illustrated by a colorful graphic dial that gives an immediate picture of how the data for one county -- its causes of premature death or hospital visits, for instance -- compare to the rest of the state. A click on one of those dials reveals more useful data: historical data trends for that county and a map showing the areas of the county where the problem is greatest. 

Freymann said the graphic elements can save a lot of time for public health professionals.

"The main difference between the dashboard and other tools in OASIS is that it provides comparisons, rankings and analysis in a report-ready format," Freymann said.

The dashboard was introduced in December and it is already making a difference for Georgia's public health professionals.

Lisa Dawson, director of DPH's Office of Injury Prevention, said the tool has changed the way her group looks at injury data around the state. A quick perusal of the dashboard shows her the counties where rates for injuries such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, suicides and other unintentional injuries are higher than the average. For some counties, these dangers are the top causes of death and hospitalization for the whole county. The ability to quickly compare data across 159 counties helps Dawson and her team determine where they need to direct their interventions to address the problems.

"It allows us to put injury numbers in context with the rest of the state, which is really, really helpful," Dawson said.

The tool is even better for Dawson, who describes herself as "not a numbers person." She said she uses the graphic elements on the dashboard to get a quick grasp of data.

"It's easy for someone who doesn't have a degree in statistics to quickly look at those dials and see where there's a problem," she said.

Freymann said the tool will become even more useful as the Affordable Care Act goes into effect, as the law requires hospitals to complete a health needs assessment for their communities. And it should make life easier for Georgia's public health workforce as well.

"Community health needs assessment is job number one of public health," he said. "This tool can help all of us save the time, effort and staff needed to collect, arrange and analyze data. That time can be focused instead on interpretation and priority-setting."

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