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!