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NYU Unveils Dashboard Displaying Social Determinants of Health

The dashboard will help policymakers create programs that address the social determinants of health.

social determinants of health

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- The Department of Population Health at NYU Langone has recently launched its City Health Dashboard, which aims to display financial and social data about communities in the country’s 500 largest cities. Specifically, this dashboard aims to help public health officials address the social determinants of health.

The dashboard, slated for use by public health officials and other relevant healthcare stakeholders, aims to highlight the social factors that influence a community’s ability to be healthy. Research has revealed that patient health is as much related to genetic makeup as it is to a patient’s zip code. Children with limited educational opportunities may eventually struggle to obtain a job and subsequent healthcare coverage, for example.

The data stored in the City Health Dashboard will offer insights into the community elements that can eventually impact patient health.

The dashboard looks at a total of 36 social factors, many of which are some of the top common social determinants of health. The tool will cover health disparities such as obesity and opioid overdose death rates. Additionally, the Dashboard will detail factors such as housing affordability, reading proficiency for school-aged children, income inequality, and other lifestyle factors that influence patient wellbeing.

Insights into these factors should help providers and healthcare and urban policymakers create programs to help patients overcome adverse social issues. For example, a report that a city has high housing costs could lead a hospital to implement affordable housing security models.

“With the City Health Dashboard, cities across the country can leverage the power of data to improve people’s lives and strengthen communities,” says Marc N. Gourevitch, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Population Health and the program’s principal architect. “There’s a saying: ‘what gets measured is what gets done.’ Only with local data can community leaders understand where actionable gaps in opportunity exist and target programs and policy changes to address them.”

Thus far, the dashboard has revealed numerous social disparities across various communities. For example, chronic school absenteeism, defined as missing 15 or more days of school, is more common in the 500 cities included on the dashboard than for the entire nation.

Chronic absenteeism can impact a patient’s overall educational attainment, which eventually could snowball into employment, income, and housing issues. Each of these adverse events could limit the patient’s ability to live a healthy life.

There are also significant health disparities between different cities. Smoking rates are markedly higher in the cities with the most smokers (24 percent) compared to the cities with the fewest smokers (12 percent). Only 3 percent of children live in poverty in the wealthiest communities, while up to 60 percent of children experience poverty in the poorest cities.

Users can look at this data – which was compiled by healthcare researchers, population health and urban policy experts, epidemiologists, and geographic information system specialists – and compare data between different communities. They may also sort data according to race and gender.

Ultimately, this information should inform future efforts, the tool’s collaborators said.

“We all have a role to play in improving wellbeing in our communities and ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities to be healthy, no matter where they live,” said Abbey Cofsky, MPH, a managing director at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation managing director, one of NYU Langone’s partners. “With city and neighborhood-specific data, community leaders, city officials, and advocates now have a clearer picture of the biggest local challenges they face, and are better positioned to drive change.”

In addition to RWJF, NYU Langone partnered with NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, the National Resource Network, the International City/County Management Association, and the National League of Cities.

Public health officials rely on data related to the social determinants of health to spark better community projects. While this dashboard is one of the first to compile data about multiple communities at once, hospitals have been fielding calls to understand SDOH in their own individual communities.

As a result, non-profit hospitals have met requirements to submit community health needs assessments (CHNAs). A mandate for hospital non-profit status, CHNAs also help hospitals understand where their healthcare expertise could help alleviate social problems that impact their patients’ wellness.

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