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The California Healthy Places Index: Transforming Health Data into Policy and Practice

June 14, 2018 | Tracy Delaney, PhD | Originally published at PracticalPlaybook.org

Everyone should have the opportunity to live a healthy life, yet community conditions vary dramatically from neighborhood to neighborhood. Health care system professionals know that factors beyond the exam room influence health outcomes—and health care costs. For instance, clinicians understand that when patients are working to manage chronic diseases (such as diabetes or hypertension), social factors like education, income, housing affordability, transportation access, and a healthy living environment are significantly influential. In fact, we know that extraordinary and glaring differences in life expectancy can happen within neighborhoods adjacent to one another.

Until now, few resources have been available for health care professionals to evaluate local factors correlated to life expectancy and explore the community conditions where their patients live. On June 14, 2018, the Public Health Alliance of Southern California released its California Healthy Places Index (HPI). This powerful new resource can be used across California to explore community conditions that predict life expectancy, compare and rank scores at multiple geographies, and learn about concrete and actionable policy solutions. It was intentionally designed to inform and support prioritization of public and private investments, resource allocations, program planning and service delivery – and the Public Health Alliance purposefully structured the HPI to go beyond problem identification into solution discovery.

 

With health care reforms making hospitals, health systems, and Accountable Care Organizations responsible for population health outcomes and health equity, the HPI offers incredibly rich data through a highly interactive and customizable HPI map. By applying a positive, asset-based frame, the HPI brings clarity to the unique community conditions affecting health. It serves as a tremendous resource to California health care professionals planning investments, conducting community health needs assessments or engaging policy makers on pathways to prevent poor health and reduce health care costs.

We feel strongly that it’s important to recognize the equity issues facing communities across California as the policy, systems and environmental challenges they are. To support healthier community conditions where they are needed most, the HPI offers 30 comprehensive policy guidesacross 8 policy action areas weighted and correlated to life expectancy at birth, including economics, education, health care access and more. The policy guides contain specific solutions and concrete practical actions jurisdictions can use to improve local factors, systems and environments.

While the HPI is a new resource, it is already in use by several health care systems, government agencies, and community groups. Some are strengthening their own databases to include granular public health data, create community health profiles, conduct community health needs assessments, and develop strategic plans. Some are using the HPI to bolster grant applications. Some are building the HPI into plans, guidelines and mandates to better integrate public health into decision making for public investments and community design. Early adopters of the HPI have included the California Strategic Growth Council, California Department of Transportation, California Department of Public Health, Southern California Association of Governments, and many local health departments across the State of California.

With its explicit connection to life expectancy at birth, positive asset-based frame, and linkage to policy solutions, the HPI is uniquely positioned to address health inequities in neighborhoods across California. Our interactive mapping application delivers the HPI at multiple geographies, beginning with Census tracts, and provides robust functionality that allows users to:

  • View and compare HPI scores and community conditions across the State

  • Prepare detailed reports with score dashboards, map snapshots, and policy actions

  • Pool the HPI data into custom geographies

  • Upload additional data to view alongside the HPI, and more.

We encourage you to visit www.healthyplacesindex.org to explore the HPI map, tutorials, data files and other background materials! Learn how to navigate the interactive map and get started today! Contact us at PHASoCal@PHI.org with questions, ideas, recommendations or if you have interest in learning more about replicating the HPI in your state.

Executive Director, Public Health Alliance of Southern California, a program of the Public Health Institute