Local health departments lack access to and experts in mapping technology
Local health departments could benefit from the use of geographic information system mapping software to guide priority-setting and resource allocation decisions by mapping gaps between program services and community health needs. Although some health departments are using GIS, a new Rand Corp. study finds program gap analysis lacking because health departments lack data, lack funding or lack technological skills for analyzing GIS maps.
Researchers interviewed 65 sources at four LHDs, concluding that health departments have unequal access to mapping technology. If it is centralized, staff may not know they have a mapping unit, and when there is access to GIS, experts may be hard to come by.
"In several cases, data were isolated in separate administrative channels or programs or divisions within an LHD. If these programs do not ordinarily interact in setting priorities, staff may simply be unaware of the data that do exist," write report authors.
Through its research RAND found many examples of mapping efforts focusing on population risk factors such as sociodemographic characteristics, but LHDs rarely mapped that data to the services they provide.
The report identifies several factors that make or break an LHD's ability to bring services mapping and population needs together: Priority-setting and the use of a planning process, resources and technical capacity at LHDs and responsive organizational structures.
The report also finds that LHDs can make greater use of mapping if they devise ways to overcome technical and organizational barriers, and have tools for integrating sub-county-level data on LHD services with data on local healthcare needs.
- download the summary or full report here
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