Generating Subcounty Health Data Products: Methods and Recommendations From a Multistate Pilot Initiative

J Public Health Manag Pract. Jan/Feb 2021;27(1):E40-E47. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000001167.

Abstract

Background: County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHR&R) makes data on health determinants and outcomes available at the county level, but health data at subcounty levels are needed. Three pilot projects in California, Missouri, and New York explored multiple approaches for defining measures and producing data at subcounty geographic and demographic levels based on the CHR&R model. This article summarizes the collective technical and implementation considerations from the projects, challenges inherent in analyzing subcounty health data, and lessons learned to inform future subcounty health data projects.

Methods: The research teams used 12 data sources to produce 40 subcounty measures that replicate or approximate county-level measures from the CHR&R model. Using varying technical methods, the pilot projects followed similar stages: (1) conceptual development of data sources and measures; (2) analysis and presentation of small-area and subpopulation measures for public health, health care, and lay audiences; and (3) positioning the subcounty data initiatives for growth and sustainability. Unique technical considerations, such as degree of data suppression or data stability, arose during the project implementation. A compendium of technical resources, including samples of automated programs for analyzing and reporting subcounty data, was also developed.

Results: The teams summarized the common themes shared by all projects as well as unique technical considerations arising during the project implementation. Furthermore, technical challenges and implementation challenges involved in subcounty data analyses are discussed. Lessons learned and proposed recommendations for prospective analysts of subcounty data are provided on the basis of project experiences, successes, and challenges.

Conclusions: This multistate pilot project offers 3 successful approaches for creating and disseminating subcounty data products to communities. Subcounty data often are more difficult to obtain than county-level data and require additional considerations such as estimate stability, validating accuracy, and protecting individual confidentiality. We encourage future projects to further refine techniques for addressing these critical considerations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural