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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC: Staff Maps Social Determinants to Inform Community Health Improvement

Health care providers are increasingly aware that social determinants – the conditions in which people live, work and play – have a greater impact on community health than the care administered in clinical settings.

When Atrium Health in Charlotte launched its first community health improvement study in 2016, it asked staff at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health’s North Carolina Institute for Public Health (NCIPH) to map social indicators of health within its 10-county service area. The resulting interactive map helped Atrium partner with Novant Health and the Mecklenburg County Health Department to focus on specific needs within six zip codes.

Applying Data Analytics to Address Social Determinants of Health in Practice,” published in the July-August 2019 North Carolina Medical Journal, details the work of NCIPH’s Dr. John Wallace, senior data advisor; Mr. Matthew Simon, senior data and geographic information system analyst; and Ms. Kasey Decosimo, Gillings alumna and former NCIPH research associate.

The team defined three categories of interest – social resources, economics, and housing and transportation – and used U.S. Census and Department of Agriculture data to map 12 health determinants including education levels, English language ability, income and health insurance.

“When you put these things on a map, areas light up that have disparities with the rest of the region,” Mr. Simon said.

Wallace added that the map “brings people around the table for frank conversations about how they can use their health improvement efforts and funds to make real differences.” Those conversations, he said, led Atrium and Novant to raise their minimum wages when they realized many of their hourly employees lived in impoverished areas.

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