Welcome Health Data Users

The National Network of Health Surveys (Network) welcomes professionals interested in using local-level population health data in their work. Practitioners and stakeholders from many fields utilize data in policy making and advocacy, program planning and evaluation, research, and education. An increase in the availability of comparable data across the country will be helpful in policy and program analysis, as well as research in many areas of population health.

We welcome data users to be active participants in the Network, providing valuable insights on current and future data needs, as well as practical examples of data usage. Visit the Member Surveys  page to learn about existing surveys that provide state and local level population health data and ways to access their data.

Policy, Research and Beyond: The Importance of Population Health Surveys

Local level population health data is instrumental in policy making and analysis, advocacy, program planning and evaluation, as well as research. Acknowledging that health care is delivered at the local level, the 2010 national health care reform legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), mandated that federal surveys and other health data be obtained and reported “at the smallest geographic level” to address health disparities based on race, ethnicity and other social characteristics. However, the legislation does not provide full guidance on how to collect the data. Some states are enhancing their Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) surveys with additional modules and more complex sampling. Other states are conducting or developing independent comprehensive surveys with state- and local-level representative samples of adults and children (with data linked to their parents) and in-depth modules on key policy issues. Several more states are actively exploring their options.

The intense focus on public health policy at the national level has prompted states to seek solutions to the need for local level data to inform policy at the levels where reforms will be implemented: state and local agencies. Formed in isolation, these individual state projects face long and expensive development phases which may ultimately undermine the effort. Successful projects may meet the state’s needs, but are not useful in multistate, regional or national research, reporting or analysis.

A lack of comparability in the data also limits analyses of the effectiveness of policies and identification of best practices at the local level that can be replicated across the country in similar locales. Coordination among these efforts would significantly enhance both the success of individual projects as well as the utility of the data to policy makers, advocates, researchers and public health organizations across the country.

Data on health outcomes are also important for policy analyses, applications for funding of services and programs, program evaluations and an emerging national accreditation program for local health agencies. Existing population health data sources available to local health agencies typically do not include population health survey data, which are the best or only source of data on numerous key health indicators, such as health status, health behaviors, mental health and health insurance coverage and access to health care. State-level data is not an appropriate substitute for representative data on local areas and populations.