Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The American Community Survey

The third American Community Survey (ACS) Data Users Conference took place May 11th and 12th, 2017, at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia. The meeting, organized by the Population Reference Bureau, brought the ACS data users together to discuss research, trends, resources, and analysis. Sent to 3.5 million addresses each year, the ACS is an ongoing survey designed to produce detailed, small area estimates on population and housing and disseminated in one-year and five-year estimates. This is in contrast to the decennial census, taken every 10 years, which provides official counts and reflects only a single point in time. The ACS covers four main topics areas; social variables such as citizenship status, place of birth, and veteran status; demographic variables like age, race, sex; economic variables like commuting and place of work, health insurance coverage, and poverty status; and housing variables, including occupancy/vacancy status, vehicles available, and computer and internet use. These examples are only a subset of the 35+ topics that comprise 1,000 tables and 11 billion estimates. The ACS data are available at a number of geographic levels from the national level down to the block group level, to cover a total of 930,000 geographic areas.
These are some of the highlights of the conference as I saw them:
  • My session on our Social Determinants of Health Mapper;
  • Learning about the American Community Survey Office (ACSO) which publishes papers and has about 300 reports on the research that they conduct using ACS data;
  • The ACS is continuously re-evaluated and retested and to improve response rate and respondent experience, including removing questions and potentially moving to a more laid back tone; and
  • They are considering adding an open-ended question that allows the respondent to share anything else they think is important.
For people like me, who regularly consume these data to put into the HealthLandscape tools, I was most interested to learn is that there is an effort underway to improve the way Census products are delivered.  Also present, was a representative from the Center for Enterprise Dissemination Services and Consumer Innovation (CEDSCI), which looks at transforming and improving the way Census products are delivered. One of the key takeaways from their talk was that they’re aiming at making the data experience much like shopping with Amazon.  Users will add data to a shopping cart and based on the search and selection, recommendations for other datasets and products will be provided. We also saw a beta version of a new Census site (data.census.gov), which will help them to transition from many dissemination platforms to a single site.
HealthLandscape has been using ACS 5-year estimates since the first set of data was released. These data are used in various tools including Community HealthView, the Social Determinants of Health Mapper, the Population Health Mapper, and the UDS Mapper. With each new ACS release, HealthLandscape processes a selection of tables for inclusion in these mapping tools at the state, county, census tract, ZCTA, and block group levels.
These tools can be accessed at:
For more about our mapping tools we invite you to attend one of our free webinars where you can learn how to use them. You can find an upcoming webinar and register to attend here:
We cover the data included and we welcome your questions in these interactive forums.
Dave Grolling
GIS Strategist


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

We were SDOH before SDOH was cool

Here at HealthLandscape, we have been developing online geospatial analytic tools for more than 10 years and that entire time, we have focused on the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH).  Our inter-disciplinary team of sociologists, informaticians, geographers and training specialists regularly work side-by-side with providers, researchers and social service organizations to synthesize data and build custom tools to meet their analytic needs.  Most of our mapping tools incorporate social determinants of health and other community, contextual information ensuring that workforce, utilization or other client-provided data can be viewed with potentially explanatory details and resources.

Our first ever (and continually updated) tool, Community HealthView, contains a comprehensive library of data one can use to predict health outcomes based on poverty status, crime, education levels and much, much more.  Data are available via map and data table and can be exported by the user.  The user can change the visualization of the data as well.  Community HealthView can be found at www.healthlandscape.org and as an add-on tool in most of our mapping tools.

More recently we have built tools that allow users to “cold spot” areas based on SDOH.  Proposed by Jack Westfall, cold spotting is identifying areas that have poor values for multiple or overlapping SDOH.  Our tools that allow this type of analysis are the UDS Mapper’s Population Indicators Tool, the Social Determinants of Health Mapper, Population Health Mapper and our newest SDOH tool, the 500 Cities Project Mapper.  You’ve read about these in our recent blogs.  These tools can be found at:

Our experience developing geospatial tools and our continued collaboration with primary care researchers have opened new avenues for research and development as well.  As health system transformation is occurring, more and more people are embracing the idea of SDOH and looking for ways to incorporate these data into patient records.  The determinants data that we have been collecting over the past 10 years form the basis of a community profile for patients that will help health care teams, researchers and administrators understand the factors that may influence success and failure of treatment plans; see the factors that may be contributing to poor outcomes and high costs; and address these non-clinical factors either at the patient, practice or community level (with partners who focus on these issues) will improve health outcomes and improve population health.

For more about our mapping tools we invite you to attend one of our free webinars where you can learn how to use them. We cover the data included and we welcome your questions in these interactive forums.

  • For the UDS Mapper

Jennifer Rankin
Senior Manager for Research and Product Services

Monday, May 1, 2017

Your User Engagement Specialist: Keith Gardner

In March of this year I joined HealthLandscape as the new User Engagement Specialist. I help the users (you) with use of the HealthLandscape mapping sites, including the UDS Mapper. Aside from providing technical assistance, I am a main trainer for these resources and create support materials like user guides and tutorials. I am responsible for social media outreach; I tweet, post to Facebook and LinkedIn, and also publish blogs, like this one, written by members of the HealthLandscape team.
A bit about myself: I have a customer service background having worked for several data-intensive software firms in the DC Metro area. I gravitated to training, over the phone, via chat, web-sharing tools, and in person. My training track led me to producing live and on-demand webcasts for firms like DHL and Visa. Later, I became a project manager and continue to use project management principles in my day-to-day work. My role at HealthLandscape is a return to training that I really missed.
In past lives I served in the US Army Infantry and as a Trader Joe’s Crew Member. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Southern Maine with a major in Philosophy.
Weekends will find me enjoying my family. My three sons keep my wife and me busy. I volunteer as a Cub Scout leader (mine and other boys!) and enjoy most outdoor activities.
So what does this mean for you? Well, I’m here to help you with the HealthLandscape suite of mapping tools and hope that, if you haven’t already, you will attend one of our free webinars.
For the UDS Mapper (www.udsmapper.org) you can register for a webinar here:
For other HealthLandscape tools (like the HealthLandscape Project 500 Cities Mapping Tool) register here:
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? You can contact us by emailing support@healthlandscape.org
You can also contact me directly at kgardner@healthlandscape.org and if you are willing will share a little about that project you are working on with our tools, I’d love to know more. I look forward to working with you and hope you make use of your User Engagement Specialist!

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 https://www.cdc.gov/500cities/.
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 https://wwwn.cdc.gov/CommunityHealth/PDF/Final_CHAforPHI_508.pdf.
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 www.healthlandscape.org.  HealthLandscape provides regular webinars to train users on our tools.  The list of upcoming webinars including registration links can be found here:  http://www.healthlandscape.org/webinar-training.cfm.

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 http://www.gisday.com/

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