Introduction: The purpose of this research is to examine the state-of-the-art in community health report card development and use in order to increase their effective integration into community health improvement efforts.
Methods: A mailed survey was sent to 115 "report card" communities nationwide. This list was generated through multiple key informants at the national, regional, and state levels. Seventy-four percent (85/115) were eligible for the study. The report cards returned were inventoried for: quality of their data, comprehensiveness, presentation, appropriateness to target audiences, purpose and sponsorship, relevance to policy development, community involvement, comparability, replicability, and other factors.
Results: Of the 85 eligible projects, 65 responded. The report cards varied significantly in all areas. Only one half of communities used pre-existing formats or the experience of others to guide this resource-intensive development process. Data collection was the greatest challenge encountered in development. Local health departments, hospitals, and non-profit civic groups were the community groups most likely to be involved in development.
Conclusion: There is need for infrastructure, technical assistance, and improved, easy-to-use tools to facilitate the report card development process and the sharing of expertise and experience among involved communities. Greater systematization of the process would enhance the reasonableness and sustainability of the effort. Broad community involvement, including support of the local health department, other community agencies, as well as the local business community, may be key to their success.