Health care numbers are interesting to Angela Russell but they only become important when you remember what they represent, Russell said.
"Data rankings are a starting point, not an endpoint, and the key is using that information to take action," Russell said. "You have to remember, this data is alive. It represents families and individuals and communities."
Russell is the engagement lead for the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Yesterday, she was in the Capitol Building to talk about using federal and state health care data to make policy changes at the local level. The event was part of a California Health Policy Forum briefing called: "Health Rankings for Communities Across California: Using Data To Improve Population Health." The event was funded in part by California HealthCare Foundation, which publishes California Healthline.
"We have recently seen national and state efforts to provide data at the local level," said event moderator Karen Shore of the Center for Health Improvement, which organized the event. "More and more, we're seeing that being healthy means more than getting medical care. Where we live matters."
David Radley, senior health policy analyst for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and project director for The Commonwealth Fund, said health system scorecards can help inform health care policy decisions. Scorecards can measure access, prevention, treatment, avoidable hospital use and healthy lives to map out successes and hot spots.
"We know spending is a major concern, it hits families by needing to pay much higher premiums," Radley said. "There has been a big shift in the last eight years, with a majority of families now paying 20% or more of their family income on health care. Premiums rose 74% in the past eight years, and that's symptomatic of why we need to fix health care."
John Kim, director of the Healthy City Project, gave a number of examples of how health information can be used to institute change on the local level.
"There was one neighborhood in L.A. where this beautiful library was built and it went unused," Kim said. When he stood on the steps of that library, Kim said, it was easy to see why. "The park across the street was run down, there were recycling centers down the street, and a number of pay-by-the-hour hotels, and a big liquor store, where on the side it was basically an open-air bar."
Kim said the Healthy City program got 200 residents to map out where the specific problems in the neighborhood were, which places they felt threatened or in danger, and then translated all that input into a map the city could use to target cleanup efforts.
The result, Kim said, was the eventual transformation of a beat-up, scary neighborhood into a community. "So it's not just the geeky data or the whiz-bang website," Kim said, "but about the changes that can take place by using that data."