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Electronic Community Health Assessment Goes Live

2024-electronic-cha-1.png For Immediate Release: 3/19/2024 4:29 pm

For the first time since it was established in 2012, the Greater Worcester Regional Community Health Assessment (CHA) is now accessible in an electronic format (e-CHA). The electronic platform makes updated community health data readily available to the public and includes new dashboards and pages unique to each Central Massachusetts Regional Public Health Alliance (CMRPHA) municipality.

“The most important element of an e-CHA, in my perspective, is that it can be updated at any time,” said Nikki Nixon, Worcester Division of Public Health (WDPH) Chief of Data, Research, and Epidemiology and Lead Author of the CHA. “Our e-CHA can be modified to reflect changes in terminology or language and can include or link to findings from other assessments in the region, such as the new regional Community Food Assessment (CFA) and other regional dashboards that are currently in development.”

The WDPH Office of Data, Research, and Epidemiology (ODRE) manages the platform and the inclusion of new data from sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey. The CMRPHA’s own biennial Regional Youth Health Survey will also be incorporated to track up-to-date trends and patterns of risky behaviors among youth. Overall, having the most recent data will enable WDPH and the CMRPHA to make informed policy and programming decisions.

The depth and breadth of available data also benefits end users, who can find the most recent statistics all in one place. Previously, the CHA existed solely as a static PDF published every three years. The e-CHA presents this data in more innovative ways and allows viewers to download and manipulate data of particular interest; for example, cancer screening rates specifically in Grafton.

The concept of a Worcester-area e-CHA has been in the works since 2018, when public health storytelling via online platforms started to become more widely adopted. Nixon and WDPH’s partners at UMass Memorial Health and Fallon Health explored other county health departments’ e-CHAs and sought a solution that could be adapted to the region. After viewing several demos, Nixon and previous WDPH Acting Director Zach Dyer, PhD decided that MySidewalk was the best option due to its functionality and ability to meet the CMRPHA’s goals.

“The platform serves as a data library internally but also allows us to tell a story with that data to the public. It also meets our need aesthetically in terms of being inviting and engaging to those who might be intimidated by data. While there is still a desperate need for more local and current public health data, I think progress is being made at the local, state, and federal levels,” said Nixon.

The MySidewalk platform has potential that Nixon is hoping to tap to support long-term solutions for health equity. Currently, ODRE is developing disparate reports on specific, critical health outcomes in the region, intended to serve as resources for addressing the root causes of those issues. ODRE and its partners are also soliciting feedback on ways the e-CHA can be further improved for end users.

In its current form, the e-CHA is essentially a condensed version of the full 2024 CHA, but with interactive maps and charts plus additional visuals, including embedded video. Meanwhile, the full triennial CHA will still be conducted and published by WDPH and its partners to fulfill reporting requirements as well as to inform the regional Community Health Improvement Plan and other programming.

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