Earlier today the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Institute of Medicine launched a major new initiative that could (should!) have a major impact on the public health field. It’s called the Community Health Data Initiative. Sound wonky? It is, a little. But this is one set of tools that’s well worth mastering for state and local governments.
Let’s start with the idea. The initiative’s goal is to make government data freely and easily available to software developers so that they can create useful applications. HHS is making data available in two ways. For the truly wonky, the federal government is now pushing downloadable files (in CSV, XML, and other formats) out onto the Web. Anyone familiar with Excel can use these files to construct databases on their own. Or, let someone else do it for you! As part of the unveiling, both Google and Bing fitted HHS data to mapping software. The results in both cases are amazingly compelling public health tools.
Here’s Google’s Hospital Finder, with information about hospitals that the folks at Google pulled out of HHS data. (Click on the dots reveals the amazing amount of information now available for each provider.)
You can do even more. Want to screen providers for beta blocker upon heart attack discharge or the most appropriate antibiotic for pneumonia? You can do that too. In short, Google’s Hospital Finder makes it easy to identify the better- and lesser-performing hospitals, with a few clicks. (I know, I know: different populations do account to some extent for different outcomes. But that doesn’t mean such comparisons aren’t valid.)
Graphically, Bing Health Maps are even better. Let’s image that you’re a state or local government official in Maryland. Want to know what percentage of women receive no prenatal care in the first trimester? Well, here is a screenshot of what you may expect. Again, a great tool.
Once you start digging through the data maps, it’s hard to stop. Want to see a list of the most serious the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites throughout the United States and its territories? Here you go.
Or how about the most dangerous places to pedal around on your bicycle (via CDC)?
Then there’s the fun stuff. HHS hopes that game developers, foundations, and media outlets will design "viral games" that encourage players to think about public health issues in new ways. One example is Community Clash, which encourages you to play a game of public health poker against other cities. It’s an easy way to benchmark your city or town.
May the best player win!