Tool gauges efficacy of public health

September 30, 2014 in Medical Technology

It has historically been difficult for public health officials – especially at cash-strapped state and local departments – to gauge whether their outreach and initiatives really work. A new tool from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Health Partners aims to change that.

Community Health Advisor predicts the health and economic impact of public health policies at the county level. 

The tool uses data such as rates of smoking and obesity applied to a sample of 13 million people. It calls on demographic and health data from sources such as the U.S. Census and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

A set of health economics models called ModelHealth, developed over 15 years by researchers at the HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research, powers Community Health Advisor to address obesity, tobacco use, cardiovascular disease and many other conditions.

Lawmakers, community leaders, employers and public health officials will have access to unprecedented data models to make informed decisions about where to make public health investments, said George Isham, MD, senior advisor, HealthPartners, and member of the National Commission on Prevention Priorities.

“This tool is the first to provide estimates of future health outcomes and medical costs from public health interventions for every county in the country,” Isham said in a press statement. 

Users can essentially select policies and their impact for up to 30 years. They can choose between several tobacco- or physical activity-related interventions, pick a geographical area, and calculate how people’s health and lifestyle choices would be affected by a particular policy change.

For example, the tool projects that raising the per-pack cigarette tax by $1.20 in Los Angeles County would have the following benefits in one decade:

• Reduce smoking prevalence by .71 percent

• Save nearly $200 million in medical care costs

• Prevent about 400 smoking-attributable deaths

“This tool provides detailed information on the number of cases of heart disease or diabetes that could be prevented, the years of life that could be gained and how many dollars could be put to better use,” said Eduardo Sanchez, MD, chair, National Commission on Prevention Priorities and deputy chief medical officer of the American Heart Association.

To that end, Community Health Advisor users can get estimates of how an intervention will affect a community over 30 years. The calculations include:

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