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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / April 2024 / RocHealthData Breaks Down Research Barriers and Informs Public Health Efforts

RocHealthData Breaks Down Research Barriers and Informs Public Health Efforts

Health researchers and public officials need reliable and timely datasets to make informed decisions about research and policy, but this information can be hard to come by. RocHealthData, a platform developed by researchers at the University of Rochester in partnership with the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES), addresses this need by making thousands of national datasets freely available.

Image of Rochester region showing school district demographic information with Holley Central School District pulled up: Grade Levels Elementary, School Type Regular School, Operational Status Open, Total Students 548, Students Eligible for Free or Reduced Priced Lunch 320
RocHealthData provides a rich array of data sources and display options, including regional school district information.

“Our research team wanted to put together a resource containing local data and national data available at a local level,” said Kathleen Holt, PhD, a staff scientist with UR CTSI. “The idea was to allow access for community organizations, as well as for UR researchers. To help inform data from the community perspective, we asked representatives at Common Ground Health, the Rochester Regional Health Information Organization, and the Monroe County Department of Public Health to join us.”

In “RocHealthData.Org: Development and Usage of a Publicly Available, Geographic Source of Social Determinants of Health Data” published in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, Holt and her partners from the UR CTSI, CARES, and the Center for Community Health & Prevention (CCHP) describe the development and impact of RocHealthData since its launch.

Their goal was to provide access to thousands of publicly available national datasets including factors like poverty, environment, crime, access to healthy food, and more. Curated data related to community health indicators, vaccination rates by census tract, hospitalization and illness rates, deaths, and more can be sorted by geographic boundaries and demographics. The platform provides data visualization options, such as tables, maps, and graphs, and allows for reports on social determinants of health factors with options to zoom in to regional locations to demonstrate how data varies.

The platform is already having impact locally. The team worked with the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Hub to produce maps showing vaccination rates by census tract, which were used by local health officials to select sites for vaccination clinics. They also work with their community partners to highlight relevant data through blog posts, email campaigns, and other periodic updates.

“In collaboration with the Emerging Infections Program at the CCHP, we produce the Monroe County Flu and RSV report, which is updated weekly during respiratory viral season, October through May,” Holt said. “This report contains information on infection, hospitalization, and death rates for influenza and RSV, and is used by local public health and hospital officials to help assess disease burden in the county.”

The project began in 2018 with a collaboration between the UR CTSI and CARES at the University of Missouri. CARES produced hubs like RocHealthData across the country to provide local health data, prepare community health assessments, and address other local health issues.

“RocHealthData is poised to become the premier regional data repository for geographically detailed social determinants of health data,” Holt said. “We are currently working to acquire several sets of these data—including birth certificate data and the relationships between segregation and housing quality—to share with our users.”

The platform currently has more than 1,000 registered users, half of whom are researchers at the University, with 20.1 percent from other research institutions and 28.2 percent community members.

“We hope to attract users from around the region and to serve as a model for others across the country who need easier access to these data,” Holt said.

The paper was authored by Kathleen D. Holt, PhD, staff scientist for Informatics and Population Health; Gretchen Roman, PT, DPT, PhD, assistant professor in the departments of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences and former TL1 Population Health Postdoctoral Fellow; Laura McIntosh, MA, administrative program manager for CCHP; Jamie Kleinsorge, MS, senior project coordinator at CARES at the University of Missouri; Jeanne Holden-Wiltse, MPH, MBA, senior associate for clinical and translational research and operations director of the UR CTSI Informatics Branch; and Nancy M. Bennett, MD, MS, retired professor of Medicine and Public Health Sciences, founding director of CCHP, and former co-director of UR CTSI.

The project described in this publication was supported by the University of Rochester CTSA award number UL1 TR002001 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The authors would like to thank the University of Missouri Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES) team for their commitment and ongoing support of RocHealthData.org.

Jonathan Raab | 4/1/2024

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