Advocacy Via Data Intelligence

tech_memo_data_diagnosis Associations Now November/December 2015 By: Katie Bascuas

To help demonstrate the value of hospitals, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association is boosting its advocacy efforts with community health stats.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) is on a mission to demonstrate the vital importance of hospitals in the state, and to do that the association is relying, in part, on a new data-based public awareness and advocacy tool.

The Community Health Legislative Dashboard—which pulls data from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Virginia Health Department—allows users to pull up population and health statistics by state legislative district. Users can view information on local hospital admissions and the number of community physicians, as well as data on adult obesity, smoking rates, premature deaths, and more in each of Virginia's 100 House of Delegates and 40 state Senate districts.

Developed by VHHA's research department, the new tool is one element of a larger public awareness campaign the association launched this fall to communicate some of the challenges hospitals are facing.

"We know that people value their hospitals and health systems—they count on them in their unexpected moments of need," says Julian Walker, VHHA vice president of communications. "What we have also found, and what is unfortunately lost on some folks, is the fact that hospitals face significant and substantial pressures to provide for public health because of federal government mandates and funding cuts and because of state inaction to address some of these challenges that put the real squeeze and financial pressures on hospitals."

Armed with the data from the dashboard, for example, the public, VHHA members, and policy makers can determine the strength of various health indicators in different communities and target areas for improvement. Walker says data from the dashboard will also be used to help communicate the positive economic footprint of Virginia hospitals in their local communities.

He adds that the tool is helping to lay a foundation of hard evidence for the public and policy makers before VHHA kicks its larger awareness campaign into a more proactive gear.

"Our initial approach is to make sure that we present accurate, verified, vetted information to the public and policy makers so that we create a baseline understanding so everyone is working from the same set of facts," Walker says. "Once we can establish that base of general knowledge, then we can transition and say, 'What are some of the potential ideas and solutions to solving these challenges?' "

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Data Diagnosis."]

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is an associate editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC.