Mapping Social Determinants of Health to Inform Community Health Planning
It’s been more than 150 years since John Snow, one of the keystones of modern epidemiology, first mapped clusters of cholera cases to persuade local authorities to take public health action. Ever since, maps have become a powerful decision-making tool to visualize and better understand the dynamic relationships, patterns and trends of health outcomes and resources.
Today, as the landscape of health care continues to rapidly change across the nation, Carolinas HealthCare System is leading the path towards prioritizing community health as a strategic focus area. To address community health, there is a growing focus within the health care sector to identify determinants of health which significantly impact health outcomes, disparities and elevated health care costs. Mapping determinants of health is an influential way to help decision makers understand the social, environmental and economic factors that impact health in a local geographic area as well as identify needs to inform community outreach, community benefit investments and initiatives.
Alisahah Cole, MD
Alisahah Cole, MD, system medical director for community health at Carolinas HealthCare System, collaborated with the NC Institute for Public Health (NCIPH) Senior Investigator Gene Matthews, JD; Analytic Research Associate John Wallace, PhD; and Research Associates Matt Simon, MA, GISP, and Kasey Decosimo, MPH, to conduct a Community Health Improvement Plan to examine determinants of health within the system’s primary service region. Based in Charlotte, NC, Carolinas HealthCare System is one of the largest health care organizations in the Southeast with more than 900 care locations in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Simon and Wallace used innovative geographic information systems tools to develop an online story map of 12 neighborhood-level determinants of health indicators for a 10-county service region. To visualize neighborhoods with the highest disparities among the determinants of health, NCIPH also created an overall index score that summarizes all 12 indicators.
With guidance from the NCIPH team, Carolinas HealthCare System gained a better understanding of the “upstream” factors that influence health to inform their community health planning and leverage a common understanding of factors to promote a collective response. In March, Carolinas HealthCare System used the story map with stakeholders to identify social focus areas for 2017–2019 and is currently using the data to build community partnerships and inform the following system-wide initiatives: faith community health ministry, community health, sponsorships and partnerships, community service projects, and grants and research.
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