To create a culture of health in each community, we first need to know how each is faring in terms of health and well-being. By using reliable and accessible tools, we can gather evidence-based information about our communities, and by working with our interprofessional and community partners, we can take concrete steps to improve health outcomes.
When I attended the New Jersey Collaborating Center for Nursing Summit this past fall, I learned about the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which offers population-based data, tools, resources and coaching services to help communities move in a positive direction.
When you go to its website, click on the state in which you live and select a specific county. The “county snapshot” gives a summary of health outcomes and health factors for a certain period of time, comparing your county with top U.S. performers as well with your own state. As you look at this snapshot, you can learn about your county ranking in the following areas:
• Health outcomes, including length of life and quality of life — Clicking on the measures within, for example, premature death or low birth weight, you will find a description, state map identifying best to worst, evidence-based data and data sources. Other measures under health outcomes include poor physical health days and poor mental health days.
• Health factors, including health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment — Clicking on measures within, for example, obesity or children in poverty, you will find a description, state map identifying best to worst, evidence-based data and data sources. Many other measures are included in health factors.
Exploring the site will help you understand the depth and breadth of what it has to offer, and it’s not hard to navigate once you have acclimated yourself.
Once you feel more comfortable, go to the red tab “roadmaps to health” and click on what works for health. There you will find the list of health factors, and after selecting a measure you are interested in examining, for example, employment, family and social support, alcohol and drug use, you can read about specific policies and programs developed to improve that particular health measure. Each policy or program incorporates an evidence rating, expected outcomes, impact on disparities and implementation examples and resources.
Toni Lewis, MPH, HO, community coach for County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, through grant funding from New Jersey Health Initiatives, offers some take-home points when using the site to learn about improving health outcomes in your community:
• Measures within health factors, for example, tobacco use, community safety, access to care, are ones that can be improved with effective community interventions. “It’s important to note that health factors listed are ones where we can make a difference,” Lewis said. “If we make changes today on measures within these identified health factors, we can improve our community’s health tomorrow.”
• From all of this information, you can understand the real story and find solutions to your community health issues and concerns. In the roadmaps section, there are practical solutions for sustainable change, and through County Health Rankings & Roadmaps you can access a community coach, who can help you move past the data to create concrete actions and real solutions. More information on free coaching is available at the CHHR website.
• If you go to the RWJF Culture of Health Prize tab, you’ll read about the 2015 prize winners who describe their journeys and what they have accomplished in improving their communities’ health outcomes. Certainly, they can serve as role models for those interested in developing community initiatives.
Other tools are available to understand more about your community are available. For example, the AARP has developed the Livability Index and other resources. County Health Rankings & Roadmaps also provides additional tools by searching under the red tab health rankings and clicking through using ranking date and finding more data.
Based on population-based health data, we can identify our community health needs and work together to create healthier places to live, learn, work and play.
What health outcomes would you like to improve in your community?