Wednesday, April 12, 2017

HealthLandscape population data tools: Now featuring RWJF 2017 County Health Rankings and more

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released their 2017 County Health Rankings (CHR), which provide a wealth of health outcome and social determinants of health data for the majority of US counties. These data are now available in HealthLandscape’s Community HealthView data library, where you can create thematic and threshold maps to visualize the geographic distribution of each of these measures.  To access the CHR data in Community HealthView, type “RWJ” into the search box and explore the data by the various categories, which include Demographics, Health Behaviors, Health Outcomes, HealthCare, and the Social & Economic Environment.
Be sure to also explore our other interactive population health mapping tools, which include the following:
The HealthLandscape Project 500 Cities Mapping Tool –allows users to layer health outcome, behavior, and prevention measures at the census tract level for the largest 500 cities across the US. The data come from the 500 Cities Project, which is a collaboration between the CDC, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the CDC Foundation to create small area estimates for health outcomes, risk factors, and preventive care. For more information about the Project 500 Cities data, see
The Population Health Mapper – allows users to layer health outcomes and social determinants for the majority US counties based on the CDC’s Community Health Assessment for Population Health Improvement guide, which lists the most frequently recommended health outcome and determinant measures. To access the CDC’s guide, see
The Social Determinants of Health Mapper – allows you to layer education, language, poverty, and income census measures at the census tract level for US counties and metropolitan areas.
To learn more about these tools visit  HealthLandscape provides regular webinars to train users on our tools.  The list of upcoming webinars including registration links can be found here:

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

500 Cities Mapping Tool

HealthLandscape Launches a New Mapping Tool
Using Census Tract-Level Data from the CDC 500 Cities

Small area estimates of health and health outcomes are difficult and prohibitively expensive to acquire.  National data systems such as the National Health Interview Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System do not collect samples large enough to produce detailed small area data.  And while state and local efforts like the California Health Interview Survey and the Greater Cincinnati Community Health Status Survey are important efforts, most communities find these projects to be cost prohibitive.

The ambitious 500 Cities Project was launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the CDC Foundation. Its purpose is to allow cities and local health departments gain a better understanding of the health issues and geographic distribution of health measures in their municipal boundaries.

Washington, DC
With the Project 500 Cities Mapping Tool, users can map synthetic small area estimates for chronic disease risk factors, health outcomes, and clinical preventive services at the Census Tract level for the largest 500 cities across the U.S. (To ensure inclusion of all states, 3 cities from Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming were included in the 500 list).

The Project 500 Cities Mapper allows users to select 27 metrics from three major categories (Unhealthy Behaviors, Health Outcomes, and Prevention) and use a slider bar to set thresholds. By default, thresholds are set at values that represent national benchmarks.

The tool will highlight those counties that are outside of the national benchmark, or will incrementally shade or remove counties depending on how the user modifies the thresholds for selected indicators.  Darker gradations of color will indicate which counties are outside of the established thresholds for multiple indicators.  Users can also view a histogram that shows the number of counties outside of thresholds by the number of indicators, allowing users to quickly filter by the number of indicators that are outside of the established thresholds.

In these two examples, we compare the combined distributions of Binge Drinking, Smoking, and lacking Leisure Time Physical Activity as markers of health risk for Chicago and Seattle.

Join us for a a detailed webinar to learn more about
the Project 500 Cities Mapping Tool

Monday, December 5, 2016

6 Tips for Preparing Your Data for Geocoding

Geocoding is the process of assigning a latitude and a longitude to a specific address.  It is what allows people to place points on maps.  When you enter that address into Google Maps, it is geocoded and marked on the map for you.  At HealthLandscape we have a tool that allows you to quickly add between 1 and 300 points to your map within most of our mapping tools for free.  Our QuickGeocodes tool can be found by clicking the “Tools” button above the map- just check the checkbox to open the tool.  It is important to note that the QuickGeocodes tool is not HIPAA compliant so you should not be using patient street addresses with this tool.

Let’s say you're ready to import your data set into QuickGeocodes. How can you be sure that your data set is accurate and will geocode correctly? Here are six quick tips:

#1: Be sure you have a complete street address

Problem: Geocoding relies on complete street addresses, including house number, street, city, state, and ZIP Code. The address won't geocode if any part of the address is missing.    

Solution: Verify that every street address is complete.

#2: Make sure each part of the address is contained in a separate field (cell)

Problem: The entire address is contained in one field, as in:

1234 Main Street Cincinnati Ohio 45202  

Or parts are in one field as in:

1234 Main Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Solution: Break each part of the address into separate fields:

1234 Main Street

#3: Notice addresses that don't make sense

Problem: Some addresses have a street name only with no number. Or a number with no street name.

Solution: Scan to see if the addresses make sense. You obviously can't verify every address, but look for those that seem unreasonable. Perhaps someone inserted a phone number instead of a house number.

#4: Eliminate address nicknames

Problem: Those who recorded the data used abbreviations for city or street names. For example, a popular abbreviation for "Los Angeles" is "LA." It's unlikely that any geocoding system will match "LA" to "Los Angeles."

Solution: Go through the data and standardize city and street names.

#5: Know what will geocode and what won't

Problem: Sometimes people substitute a post office box for a true mailing address, or they list both a post office box and a mailing address in the same field. Similarly, they may list a building name in place of a true address. For example, in Cincinnati, they might list an address as "Carew Tower" instead of 441 Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202.

Solution: Eliminate any address that is not a true street address, such as a post office box or rural route address. It won't geocode anyway. And replace building names with actual addresses.

#6: Establish data entry best practices before you collect the data

Keep this tip in mind for your next data collection effort. The cleaner your data, the better your results. Our "Introduction to HealthLandscape" webinar teaches you how to geocode your own data, as well as access data from our Community HealthView data library. Register today using the link below.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

GIS Day 2016

GIS Day 2016 is on November 16th. Since 1999, there has been annual international effort by those involved in GIS to host and participate in events designed to teach people about all things “geo.” It is an opportunity to open our doors to those wanting to learn about GIS and to show prospective geospatial thinkers what they can do with GIS, and the paths that can lead them to a geocareer.

Many of the scheduled GIS Day events are geared towards students. For example, a GIS Day Celebration Fun Map event will be hosted at an elementary school and will include a GIS education lecture to 5th graders. Another event, hosted by HealthLandscape’s partner, BlueRaster, brings high school students into their offices to share how BlueRaster team members got into GIS and discuss what the students should study in school if they’re interested in GIS.

In the Washington, D.C. metro area, there are nine events taking place this year. These include the ‘Virginia Department of Transportation’s Northern Virginia District GIS Day,’ where they will show participants how GIS is used in Northern Virginia. New Light Technologies, Inc. is hosting an event called ‘What is GIS and how do I use it in my Business or Organization.'  I’m looking forward to an event at the famed Library of Congress where colleagues from the Geography and Maps division will show how students, teachers, and the government utilize GIS. To find information about these events or others near you, visit

HealthLandscape also provide opportunities for users, prospective or current, to gain a better understanding of what geospatial technologies can do for you. Here is a brief snapshot of upcoming learning opportunities:

UDS Mapper Advanced Topics
11:00 AM
Introduction to the UDS Mapper
11:00 AM
Introduction to HealthLandscape
1:00 PM
HealthLandscape Data Visualization Tools
2:00 PM
Exploring Medicare Data with HealthLandscape
1:00 PM
UDS Mapper Advanced Topics
2:00 PM
Introduction to the World Health Mapper
2:00 PM
Population Health Mapper
1:00 PM
NOTE: All times are in Eastern Time Zone.

In last week’s blog, my colleague wrote about her journey to geography and her concern about whether her son was getting the same opportunities she did to become a geospatial thinker.  Go back and visit that blog to find additional resources for children, including our new Map Missions, or better yet, find a GIS Day event near you!

Dave Grolling
GIS Strategist

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Map Mission

I’ve written here before about my serendipitous journey to geography.  I neglected to add the dedicated training my map-loving mother gave me.  Trying to occupy her two children on long road trips, she would open a road map, fold it into a square, find a town, hand us the map and tell us the town name to find thereby gaining for herself many minutes of silence.  I gained an intimate knowledge of the small towns in Texas, an understanding of the connections between them and her love of maps.  

Now, I rely on the GPS on my phone or in my car to help me navigate the strange road layouts and terrible traffic in Northern Virginia.  Still learning those connections between the places here myself, I wonder if my son is building the same spatial thinking skills my mother gave to me especially given my new reliance on GPS and the accessibility of other types of entertainment for him on our long (and short) road trips?  But on the other hand, given the availability of GPS does he even really need to learn how to read maps if a voice will tell him when and in what direction he will need to turn?

Desert Map(with treasure and quicksand) by B, age 6

It turns out that yes, children still need to learn how to read maps.  Spatial thinking is a critical component of their development and growth and can help put them a step ahead in our increasingly global and technological society.  PBS published a nice article about this in January:  Additionally the National Geographic Society has many resources to help teach about geography, data and maps:  And based on what he likes to draw, I think he is clearly on his way to at least appreciating maps.

The team at HealthLandscape also wants to help you find and show the connections that exist in your communities between social determinants of health, health workforce distribution or use of federally funded health centers.  In addition to the many free webinars we host, the user support team is here to answer your questions.  We have added a new chat feature to our sites so that you can reach us faster, as you are using the maps.  For the first few months (or more depending on your response) we will happily provide you with fun, weekly tasks called Map Missions to find certain things on our, and some external, mapping tools.  Quite the opposite of my mother, I hope handing you these fun tasks will generate conversation,  lead you to search for similar connections in your communities, and help you to discover different data sets and mapping tools that you did not know we had.

To request a weekly Map Mission simply visit a HealthLandscape mapping tool and in the upper right-hand corner click where it says, “Can I Help You?” to start chatting with us to make your request.

Jennifer Rankin
Senior Manager for Research and Product Services

Thursday, November 3, 2016

4 Tips to Becoming a HealthLandscape Expert User

1. Attend our webinars and in-person trainings
Attending a webinar or in-person training is one of the best ways to learn how to properly and effectively use the HealthLandscape tools. All of our trainings offer question and answer segments that allow you to ask any questions you might have about the HeathLandscape tools. Here are schedules of our upcoming webinars for HealthLandscape and the UDS Mapper.

If these dates and times do not fit your schedule, contact us and we would be delighted to schedule a personalized training.

2. Discover our tutorials, user guides and other resources
HealthLandscape works hard to provide a variety of training materials to help you navigate the HealthLandscape tools, including user guides and step-by-step ‘How-To’ tutorials. These are provided as resources for you to teach yourself how to use the tools at your own pace.  Training materials for HealthLandscape tools can be accessed when entering a specific tool, on the tool’s welcome screen.* UDS Mapper training materials and resources can be found in the “Tutorials and Resources” tab on the UDS Mapper website.

*User guides are being updated to represent the most current data and features available. Not all HealthLandscape tools have user guides.

3. Contact us
We are here to help! Reach out to us anytime and we will happily answer your questions. We are passionate about Healthlandscape and want to do everything we can to provide the best possible user experience. We currently have three methods available for contact. The first, and newest addition to HealthLandscape, is our live chat feature. Chat with us during business hours by simply selecting the ‘Can we help you?’ button on the top right corner of the website. This feature is available on the home screen and in the mapping tools, so start a chat with us from the beginning of your experience or when you’re in the midst of creating a magnificent map. Another method of contact is to visit the HealthLandscape Support page. Here, you can find contacts based on your specific needs including data mining support, subscription options, and custom application development. Our last method of contact is UDS Mapper specific. Use the ‘Contact Us’ form for any questions you might have pertaining to the UDS Mapper or to set up a webinar training.

4. Become part of the HealthLandscape community
Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to see weekly blog updates and HealthLandscape news and whereabouts. HealthLandscape is dedicated to providing resources to make your HealthLandscape user experience a great one. Join our community to keep track of upcoming webinars, conferences that we will be attending, newly added data, and feature updates to our tools.

Visit HealthLandscape today at:

Claire Meehan
User Engagement Specialist

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Exploring Competition and Proximity: A Comparison of Basic Methods

Today, HealthLandscape is releasing the Geospatial Brief, “Exploring Competition and Proximity: A Comparison of Basic Methods.” Brief #4 looks at the importance of including local context when measuring access to health care providers by comparing two common distance measurement methods with actual service area data retrieved from the UDS Mapper.

Configuring and updating the data behind the UDS Mapper is a task that requires many hours spent looking at the tool to make sure that what appears on the screen is logical and accurate. As we go through this process every update cycle, I know that Jennifer will send me her comments based on towns in Texas, Mark will send his showcasing the northern half of the Cincinnati metro, and Michael’s will focus on Kentucky. We each tend to focus on the geographic area that we are most familiar with - either where we’re from, our where we find ourselves, today.

Last spring, I moved from Cincinnati to a small town just west of Seattle, Washington. As I explored the Grantees and Access Points in my new locale during the last UDS Mapper update, I started thinking about accessibility issues and common ways that people measure distance and proximity to places they need to go. For example, Google Maps tells me that my house is 21 miles to my favorite coffee shop in downtown Seattle. However, because we live on the western side of Puget Sound, access to the city isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems - it requires either a ride on the ferry or an 80-mile drive around the Sound - at least an hour of travel, on a good day. I wondered whether the Health Center Program grantees on the Seattle side of the water could draw in patients from my area, and vice versa.

I decided to tackle this issue in a Geospatial Brief - comparing two common ways to measure access to facilities (Euclidean Distance and Network Distance) to the actual service area footprint of Peninsula County Health Services, the Health Center Program grantee in my county. The Brief illustrates the importance of incorporating real local knowledge into research design and methodology and serves as the starting point for additional research into defining areas of competition and proximity.

Jené Grandmont, MA