County Rankings Illustrate Population Health

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , March 20, 2013

"It shows where they are doing well and where there are opportunities for improvement," Russell says. "On the national level and the local level a lot of the conversation has focused on healthcare and our data set and research shows that healthcare is important. But our research also tells us that much of what affects our health occurs outside of the doctor's office. In fact, where we live actually matters to our health."

Russell wants healthcare providers to use the rankings as a starting point and then to dig a little deeper to find out what their communities are up against. After all, it's hard to fight when you don't know your opponent.

"As a health administration, you get a better sense of your actual service area and know the challenges and opportunities you face," Russell says. "It would tell you a lot about your community health. It would tell you if folks in your service area are dying before they should. It will tell you if you have a high rate of low birth weight babies being born in your area. It can tell you a lot about health behaviors. Are people smoking more? Are they obese? Are they physically inactive?"

The data also show that there are a variety of factors that influence the health of the community that go beyond health behaviors and access to care. "It also includes socio-economic factors such as education, poverty, income, community safety, and the physical environment," Russell says. "The data also show that there are some counties that can be right next to each other and some can be very healthy and some are not."

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