Magnifying Community Health in Missouri

March 21, 2018

Author: Mat Reidhead
Vice President of Research and Analytics

New policies and paradigms are forcing the convergence of hospital-based care and public health. Traditional fee-for-service reimbursement models placed these disciplines along divergent paths — increasing the supply and effectiveness of public health interventions reduces the demand for hospital-based care. Value-based reimbursement models entice hospitals and health systems beyond their four walls and into communities where public health has been deeply entrenched since before John Snow discovered the contaminated well on Broad Street in 1854.

Public health is clearly defined as the promotion and protection of the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work and play. The definition of community, however, doesn’t enjoy the same disambiguation.

The standard hierarchy of census geographic entities contains 30 different strata — from nation to census block, with counties in the middle. So according to the census, there are 30 different formal definitions of community. And, it is unfortunate that generating meaningful health data is an expensive undertaking. So much so that standard federal measures of population health, such as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are cost prohibitive for governments to produce beyond state or regional levels.

This poses a serious limitation for those in search of the proverbial Broad Street well within their own communities. Assessing population health in the granular definitions of community typically relies on anecdotal and observational data. This is common practice because it’s untenable to formulate targeted population health improvement interventions using aggregate data for an entire state or region. Disaggregating population health data into meaningfully granular levels greatly improves the likelihood of success for community health improvement efforts. This allows stakeholders to target scarce resources to local areas that are moving the population health needle in the wrong direction.

Today, we launched the exploreMOhealth platform with our partners at Missouri Foundation for Health and University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems. The site contains community health data at the county and ZIP code-level that are unique to Missouri. We designed the platform and its reports to assist users with completing community health needs assessments and direct resources to areas in the greatest need of help.