All Americans stand to benefit from a comprehensive and integrated health statistics system that, while protecting the privacy of individual data, “highlight[s] the distribution of health in relation to the distribution of resources directed to maintaining or improving [it].”(7) These benefits will be measured not only in improved health at both personal and community levels, but also in more rational and cost-effective decision-making and stronger communities. The potential beneficiaries include families, community leaders, health care professionals and institutions, businesses of all kinds and sizes, educators, local health departments, the media, social service providers, advocacy groups, foundations, and every level and branch of government.
Such enhancements will enable us to make informed decisions about health investments and then evaluate their results. Here are a few examples of potential applications:
- Billions of dollars have been allocated to provide uninsured children with health insurance through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.(8) However, currently there is no way to know what difference this is making in their care and health. Better information would permit better outreach, better care, better comparisons of different approaches, and better monitoring of results.
- Currently, there are many concerns but insufficient knowledge about the health impact of toxins in the air, water, and food. With more complete information, we could pinpoint harmful sources, study their impact on health, design preventive measures, and track their effectiveness.
- Comprehensive, integrated local data on prenatal care, infant outcomes, and infant care would allow community health workers to design more effective approaches to prenatal and infant care, and to evaluate the performance of programs and providers.
- Currently there is no way to match the supply of primary care and specialist services to the needs of populations. Having this information would make it possible to target resources to meet the needs of people in different areas and to avoid excesses that generate unnecessary costs for the public.