When it comes to gathering information about our health, there’s no shortage of sources. From the media, to the blogosphere and health care professionals in our own circles, opinions and advice on how to be healthier are everywhere.
For those who want to take a proactive approach to their health, the challenge isn’t how to find information – it’s how to find credible health information and, ultimately, how to put that information in its proper context.
Without context, it’s easy to lose sight of the “big picture” that leads not only to good individual health, but also to healthy communities and a healthier state. That’s why the Hospital Association of Rhode Island and the R.I. Department of Health partnered recently on the creation of Rhode Island Health Care Matters (www.rihealthcarematters.org), a new website devoted to capturing nonbiased data, local resources and a wealth of information for Rhode Islanders in a format that is searchable and user friendly. The site, which includes a dashboard of more than 80 health and quality-of-life indicators, demographic information, promising practices, news articles and information about community events, is immediately translatable to 70 languages. (Esta pagina de internet interactiva permite a todos los usuarios a contribuir con informacion e ideas y es inmediatamente traducible a 70 idiomas.)
This valuable tool will assist consumers, hospitals, physicians and a wide range of health care providers by tracking key indicators about the health status of Rhode Islanders. While consumers can use the information to inform their own health care and behavior decisions, Rhode Island Health Care Matters can also play an important role in the work of policymakers and professionals, allowing these sectors to establish and track community goals, better understand the challenges impacting a particular population or community, and tap into a wealth of background knowledge for tasks such as writing grants and drafting policy.
In addition, the evolving nature of the site allows all users to contribute information and ideas, making it a true community resource for Rhode Island.
Hospitals, in partnership with the Department of Health, have a longstanding commitment to improving community health in Rhode Island. But doing so requires additional information on the health status of each community. In addition to Rhode Island Health Care Matters, hospitals recently concluded a statewide community health assessment. The results of this examination will be released later this year and identify goals toward which hospitals will be working to improve community health over the next three years. Concurrently, the Department of Health is organizing a more-expanded community-health assessment with its many partners.
With the implementation of the federal health reform law, the future of the health care delivery system must include a strong focus on population health. Hospitals and the Department of Health have responded with innovative tools and insightful analyses. We are confident that collecting, analyzing and making health data available to all organizations involved in health reform initiatives will serve as the foundation to improved health for all Rhode Islanders. These projects once again demonstrate that in Rhode Island, health care matters. •
Dr. Michael Fine is the director of the R.I. Department of Health. Edward Quinlan is the president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island.