In order to fill the data gap within the public health system, Orange County recently launched the interactive website that allows anyone to find the most recent data and information about health and wellness in the county.

The county’s Healthier Together is a community-wide initiative that aligns public and private resources within the public health system to improve health for all of the county’s communities. This initiative is led by the Health Improvement Partnership (HIP), which Orange County Health Care Agency, Public Health Services formed in order to assess the county’s health and create a community-driven plan to improve health.

The website has been over two years in the making, with its origins dating back to 2012 when, following a convening of 21 health and community-based organizations, Health Care Agency officials first determined that the data gap existed. It stems from the fact that as soon as data reports are published, they are almost immediately out of date since data sources are constantly updating.

“We didn’t really have a platform that could show the indicators live. We would publish the data in an actual print format or post it online, so it wouldn’t be in the format that it is,” said Jane Chai, the public health projects manager at the Orange County Healthcare Agency.“This was our goal—to have this website be where our plan lives.”

The website is administered by the Health Care Agency and co-sponsored by, Orange County United Way, and the Children & Families Commission of Orange County, as well as the Health Care Agency.

“Our goal has always been just to have an online web-based tool where health data can live. We worked for a while looking at what types of data are meaningful, what types of data are actionable and data that might be comparable to other areas so that we can benchmark it to the state or nationally,” Chai said.

The website has more than 170 indicators related to the health of Orange County. These indicators are organized by topics such as child health, exercise, nutrition, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Other indicators are related to critical needs such as housing, transportation and income. In addition, there is a database of approximately 150 demographic items. Most indicators can be broken down to see how Orange County has trended over time and how the data changes across sex, race, ethnicity, age and geographic location.

Among the 21 partners are the Orange County Medical Association, Latino Health Access, Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance and others.

“Good health planning starts with good data,” said Alyce Mastrianni, the health policy and programs director at the Children and Families Commission of Orange County. “I used to work for the county health care agency, the research planning office, and we would get a lot of requests for data. So to have that data out there at our fingertips to promote the healthcare planning, and to have very consistently available and reliable data across the community, I think is going to be very important.”

While data show that Orange County’s health fares well in many respects compared to other areas of California, there are still real health challenges and disparities in the county.

For example, data on OC Healthier Together point to the critical needs of housing. More than 28 percent of Orange County households experience severe housing problems like overcrowding, high housing costs, lack of kitchen or lack of plumbing facilities, which puts the county in the bottom quartile of all U.S. counties.

The website also presents data that evidences health disparities across ethnic lines. Between 2011-2013, nearly 14 of every 10,000 residents were hospitalized for diabetes, but the rate for Latinos was 22 per 10,000 and African Americans was 35 per 10,000.

Having the most up-to-date data available means healthcare professionals can create programs to address these health disparities in the county. And while the data is available for public health planning, the site aims to make the state of health more transparent and accessible to everyone.

“It’s really all about making healthcare information available in a integrative, available and readily accessible format that,” said Christina Altmayer, the executive director of the Children and Families Commission of Orange County. “There have been many partners that I have worked with who are also trying to have that information accessible for a number of different people in an economic format, so that we can drive healthy decision making.”

As for informing the public about OC Healthier Together, the HIP is spreading the word through its partners and holding website trainings and presentations for the past six months. Thus far, the site has been well received.

“The feedback has been fantastic, even better than what we expected,” said Chai. “People are looking forward to the ways that they can use the data in their work, but they already know it’s going to be helpful because in the past getting this information would’ve taken knowing who to go to and now it’s just available on the website.”

Sri Ravipati recently graduated from UC Irvine, where she majored in Literary Journalism.

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