Tag Archives: nchs

Find health data at Childstats.gov, a clearinghouse for kid numbers

Time to add another link to your “federal data clearinghouses” folder, if you haven’t already. Childstats.gov, published by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, synthesizes data from the CDC, NCHS, National Children’s Survey, AHRQ, Census and other specialized programs.

kidsPhoto by nasa hq photo via Flickr

The site is anchored by its annual report, “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being,” and the easy-to-navigate nature of its databases seems to have already inspired some discussion on Twitter, particularly in relation to child homelessness.

Many of the data tools are simply links to general surveys (like AHRQ’s National Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project) that just happen to contain child-related information, but there are some more specifically relevant data sources, the best of which I’ve listed below.

State-by-state data, the plug-n-play version

We write about state-by-state federal health statistics a lot here, but acknowledge that they can sometimes require basic spreadsheet and database skills, not to mention an understanding of statistics.

statsThat’s where the National Center for Health Statistics Stats of the States pages comes in. It has piles of neatly packaged and ranked PDFs on things like “Kidney Disease Mortality by State” and “Percentage of Births Born Preterm by State,” and it even tidies it all up further by giving each state its own fact sheet full of ranks and numbers.

This is a site for the curious, as well as for folks who just need quick, clean numbers. Data-savvy reporters will already have their own ways of accessing all of this basic information, and would probably rather not deal with the PDF-entrapped numbers anyway. But, for what it is, it does the job nicely.

Related AHCJ tip sheets
Using the Census for health reporting
Finding patterns and trends in health data: Pivot tables in spreadsheets
Looking at Health Indicators by Zip Code

Forum offers stats on well-being of elderly

AgingStats.gov is an often-overlooked federal clearinghouse of aging-related data from the Federal Interagency Forum on Age-Related Statistics. It focuses on summary reports.

Its latest effort, Older Americans 2010: Key Indicators of Well-Being (174-page PDF), summarizes 37 key indicators it believes are broadly relevant and easy to understand. By my count, 24 of those are explicitly health-related.

Everything is illustrated with an abundance of charts and maps, and an emphasis on bulleted summary and analysis helps keep things accessible. Those looking for a deeper dive into the summary numbers will want to head to the appendix.

As part of its health sections, the report contains seven “Health Status” indicators, including chronic health conditions, depressive symptoms, sensory impairments and oral health, and functional limitations.

One example:


It also includes eight “Health Risks and Behaviors” – things like diet, air quality, mammography and vaccinations – and nine “Health Care” indicators, including expenditures, prescription drugs and residential services.

The forum, which nobody seems to refer to by the acronym FIFARS, has been around since 1986. Participants include the Census Bureau, a number of Health and Human Services departments (AHRQ, CMS, NCHS and others), HUD, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the EPA, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Social Security Administration.

Thanks to AHCJ member Eileen Beal for suggesting this as a tool other members might find helpful.

Reporters use county rankings for analysis

On Feb. 17, rankings of the relative health of counties in each American state were released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin. The rankings used data from 13 distinct (mostly federal) sources, including the National Center for Health Statistics, the Census Bureau and the Dartmouth Atlas. With that data, researchers computed eight separate composite scores, which were then weighted to produce one overall score. The ratings are navigated by clicking through a national map to the state and county level. Enough clicks will even bring you to the raw data itself. The state only compares counties, not states, because data collection varies from state to state and isn’t always standardized.

logo1It’s a combination of data, analysis and an intuitive interface, and journalists have been quick to localize the story. Many reporters reached beyond the easy numbers (“our county is 67th!”) to use the system for deeper stories.

For example, Robin Erb of the Detroit Free Press dissected the ratings process and how individual factors and disparities played into them before launching into the standard state breakdown.

Writing for Health News Florida, David Gulliver took a broader state view and considered how various socioeconomic factors played into the rankings of Florida counties. Gulliver’s analysis:

The strong-performing coastal counties, like Collier, St. John’s Sarasota, Charlotte, Palm Beach and Broward, all benefit from having heavy concentrations of retirees who have guaranteed health care access via Medicare. …

[Dr. Kevin Sherin, director of public health for Orange County] said that in Florida’s tourism and service industries, workers tend to be transient and less likely to have insurance or consistent primary care.

He noted the low-ranked counties were some of the poorest in Florida, like Union and Bradford in the rural north, and Glades and Okeechobee, with heavy populations of migrant workers. Those counties also tend to have more people who speak only Spanish, Creole or other languages.

Gulliver localized the story on a county level for his Sarasota Health News site.

In USA Today, Mary Brophy Marcus took the national view and looked for broad trends and generalizations. Marcus’ story was accompanied by a map by Frank Pompa highlighting each state’s healthiest and least healthy counties.

Patient 2.0 empowers patients, worries doctors

Writing for Time, Bonnie Rochman digs into the ramifications of patients sharing information and tips online, an “empowerment movement” she calls “Patient 2.0.” In the piece, she profiles the newly created Society for Participatory Medicine, which “encourages patients to learn as much as they can about their health and also helps doctors support patients on this data-intensive quest,” as well as PatientsLikeMe.com, a free service which makes its money by selling anonymized patient information.

Photo by presta via Flickr.

One private-sector initiative already has about 50,000 patients inputting their symptoms and treatment regimens and updating details of their disease progression. Wonder how others are coping with your particular ailment? PatientsLikeMe.com spells it out via color-coded charts and graphs. “When you need help, privacy is a terrible thing,” says Jamie Heywood, who co-founded PatientsLikeMe in 2004 before his brother died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.

Rochman demonstrated the strength of PatientsLikeMe in an anecdote in which data from the site’s users allowed administrators to reach clear conclusions about the effectiveness of lithium in the treatment of ALS six months ahead the formal clinical trials that were testing the same thing.

While medical professionals like those at the Society for Participatory Medicine have embraced the patient power movement, “plenty of doctors are worried about the quality of the information that is being assessed as well as patients’ ability to understand it,” Rochman wrote. A few have taken it upon themselves to fill the gaps, banding together to weigh in on the effectiveness of certain off-label treatments via Twitter, and to produce patient seminars on the reasons for clinical trials and the efficacy of various treatments.

NCHS: Patient 2.0 most popular use of health tech by far

The National Center for Health Statistics recently (Feb. 2) released statistics for the first half of 2009 on “Health Information Technology Use Among Men and Women Aged 18-64.” The stats show that “searching for health information online” is still the only use of health information technology embraced by a majority of American adults.

The numbers:

  • From January through June 2009, 51% of adults aged 18-64 had used the Internet to look up health information during the past 12 months.
  • Over 3% of adults aged 18-64 had used an online chat group to learn about health topics in the past 12 months.
  • Among adults aged 18-64, women were more likely than men to look up health information on the Internet (58.0% versus 43.4%) and were also more likely to use online chat groups to learn about health topics (4.1% versus 2.5%).
  • From January through June 2009, almost 5% of adults aged 18-64 had communicated with a health care provider by e-mail in the past 12 months.
  • During the first 6 months of 2009, 6% of adults aged 18-64 requested a refill of a prescription on the Internet, and almost 3% had made an appointment with a health care provider in the past 12 months using the Internet.
  • Among adults aged 18¬64, women were more likely than men to request a prescription refill on the Internet (6.6% versus 5.3%), make an appointment using the Internet (3.5% versus 1.8%), and communicate with a health care provider over e-mail (5.6% versus 4.2%).