How many people in your community use opiates? Five percent? Twenty? The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports a daily average of over 130 deaths from opioid overdose, and while it’s relatively straightforward to obtain the statistics behind overdoses, it’s much more difficult to grasp the number of users with the potential for addiction. Much the way census information about homeless populations can only be reliably gathered by boots on the ground counting individuals, gathering information about drug use among otherwise healthy populations is best done through surveys. The data collected through a community health needs assessment (CHNA) invaluable to anyone concerned about community health.
Socially relevant issues such as opioid use constantly evolve; 20 years ago, very few would have predicted the mass casualties at the hands of prescription drug abuse. As community health needs change over time, so does the need for adaptable and consistent CHNAs. A powerful assessment offers customized data specific to your local needs, considers and quantifies the impacts of social determinants, produces benchmarkable and replicable data, and is applicable across the community population.
Custom Local Data
A thorough understanding of a community requires data which tell you exactly what you want to know, for where you want to know it. A strong CHNA gathers and analyzes its own custom data, which can be segmented down to the zip code and is specific to each hospital’s community. Primary data, often collected through methods such as customized population health surveys, carry much more weight for individuals and communities than pre-defined statistics alone. These data reflect the community and the information needed for a robust CHNA to impact both stakeholders and residents themselves.
A CHNA should encompass data across the age spectrum, including children and adolescents. Too often, the focus of a CHNA is the byproduct of the ready availability of mortality, morbidity, and the other clinical health data that primarily impact older adults. Although local data about child health—when available at all—are often severely limited, this information is nonetheless critical to building a healthier future. For example, high levels of childhood obesity correlate to a future population suffering from increased rates of diabetes. Healthcare organizations must therefore take initiative to collect and analyze data pertaining to child populations, whether that be through a survey of health needs or some other primary data collection means.
Additionally, social determinants—structures and economic systems such as social and physical environment or local health services—often determine an individual’s health status and are responsible for many of the health inequities a CHNA aims to study. Shaped by the distribution of money, power, and resources throughout local communities, these factors must be understood in order to create a holistic solution for health deficiencies. Research demonstrates that the environments in which people live and work often set them up for future success…or failure. As the industry continues to recognize that “healthcare” means more than unhealthy people accessing clinical care in a physical building, so grows the need for an upstream approach which incorporates social determinants into the meaning of health.
To provide health data which takes these factors into consideration, a strong CHNA studies populations living in “unhealthy housing,” including residences with water leaks, bugs, mold, or other unhealthy or unsafe conditions. These studies should also reveal factors such as financial resilience, which indicates how close the respondent is to an unexpected cost which destabilizes their life. For example, if the respondent would need to sacrifice their grocery bill to cover an unexpected $400 car repair, they have low financial resilience. A powerful population survey allows for customizable local data based on social determinants such as these. This method allows hospitals, health departments, and other key stakeholders to create highly effective and targeted implementation strategies.
Benchmarking and Replicable Data
The key to understanding and thoughtfully applying data is having a yardstick against which to measure yourself. Those who repeat community health surveys over time, trending data represents another, even more powerful, benchmark. When conducting primary survey data at the local level, reliable benchmarks such as these are critical to understanding where you are, how far you’ve come, and where you’re heading.
In order to ensure that local data can be properly compared to national datasets, our team at PRC conducts a national study for the sole purpose of sharing those results with CHNA clients to benchmark against their own local data. Of course, the best competition is your own hospital. By conducting the same survey every three years, PRC is able to show organizations how they’ve grown over time and celebrate progress and breakthroughs together. These benchmarks allow organizations to understand where they’ve come from and how they’re growing.
Year after year, hospitals continue to collaborate with key informants and other local organizations to enact consistent, measurable change. Engaging local key informants is critical in achieving a well-rounded and actionable CHNA.
These key informants might work outside traditional healthcare venues in areas such as social services, the judiciary, or local businesses, yet they nonetheless have a broad interest and an ability to make a difference in the community’s health. Because large-scale change cannot happen without the support of these individuals, a powerhouse CHNA integrates key informants as a component of every assessment. As these groups have a high stake in understanding the community—especially vulnerable populations—they are often grateful to have the opportunity provide their insights, and the CHNA can serve as a catalyst for future partnership and collaborative activities.
Choose the Right Partner
PRC has performed CHNA studies for 25 years and understands not only how to not only meet hospitals’ IRS requirements, but also how to provide your organization with smart, actionable insights that can be used to make a substantial difference in the day-to-day lives of your community. Further, PRC is the only private research firm to conduct regular national research (the PRC National Health Survey) to generate comparative data for its CHNA clients. PRC’s CHNA research has impacted more than 100 million Americans, nearly one-third of the United States population. Our CHNA clients are among the most progressive in the nation, and we’re proud to work alongside leaders who recognize that the health of their neighbors impact the health of their hospitals.