In order to improve the public’s health and community decision-making about population health programs and priorities, health statistics data must be provided back to communities, community groups, local governments, and health care providers in ways that maximize data access and ease of use. If health statistics are to play their role in improving the population’s health, the users of health statistics data cannot be confined to epidemiologists, statisticians, and other public health professionals.
To maximize access and ease of use, health statistics must be presented understandably, and for a wide range of local audiences. Useful and useable data must be provided to local communities in useful formats. Producers of health statistics must recognize that different presentations and modes of access to health statistics will be needed for different types of users. Current approaches to providing local health statistics data must be expanded upon, such as regularly updated hard copy community health profiles and user-friendly, interactive Web-based health statistics information services.(25)
Paradoxically, a health statistics system based on the principles described here will be simultaneously more simple and more complex than our current patchwork of data collection systems. On the one hand, the work of data providers (e.g., hospitals, physicians, HMOs, and neighborhood health centers) should be simplified by the adoption of standards and the elimination of duplicative reporting of the same data for billing and administration, multiple “silo” surveillance systems, and clinical purposes. The work of the end users of health statistics data (including community groups, public health professionals, policy makers, community groups, and researchers) also should be simplified, because of the increased understandability introduced by compatible, multi-purpose standards for what are currently called administrative, clinical, and health statistics and surveillance data.
On the other hand, the work of the data collectors (including state and federal agencies) may become more complex, due to several factors: the need to carefully structure data distribution and sharing partnerships that conform to new legal requirements, the need to manage agreements on compatible data standards, and the need to scrupulously adhere to new security and confidentiality protocols.