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Overview

Important Features of Health Statistics and Data Sets

Health Data on the Web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Key Concepts: Overview

Technology has markedly improved access to public health statistics. These statistics are derived from data sets which are collections of logically related data arranged in a prescribed manner. Data may represent information collected at the national, state, or local levels. Public health data sets may be conveniently envisioned as falling into two broad categories. One category includes counts of individual health-related events or services. Counts are made of individuals who are provided particular health services. These counts are normally geographically and chronologically proscribed. For example, one collection of data might focus on a population in the northeast United States between 1960 and 1980 while another might be limited to citizens of West Virginia.

Specific events might include hospital emergency room visits, visits to WIC clinics, deaths attributed to a specific cause, and preventive services including cancer screenings or immunizations. Such counts of events, once aggregated, are useful in assessing general health needs and status, setting reimbursement levels, determining eligibility, evaluating care and program coverage, and penetration rates. However, because data collection is limited to those who seek services, the results may or may not be representative of the general population.

A second category of data sets describes populations through the use of sampling techniques. Data collection systems that create these data sets survey a subset of a reference population. The reference population could be as broad as all citizens of the United States or it may be more narrowly constrained. Examples include many of the federal surveys of health status and health behaviors and health services utilization. The sampling techniques are used to identify an appropriate survey population.

Statistical reports including a mix of text, tables, and figures from data sets are available from an increasing number of federal, state, and local sources through a variety of electronic modes, including the Internet.


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