Helping local governments in Victoria identify priority areas for health intervention using online data visualisation
The Department of Health's core objective is to achieve the best health and wellbeing for everyone living in Victoria and its role covers planning, policy development, funding and regulation of health service providers.
The Health Intelligence Unit (HIU) provides high quality information on the health, and determinants of health of the Victorian population to improve health policy development and service planning. Decisions that affect health include the public making healthy choices, professionals exercising judgment, managers improving processes and politicians allocating resources. The Department of Health believes better information leads to better decisions, which in turn, contribute to better health and well-being for Victorians. The major business process of the HIU comprises the following: health surveillance data sourcing and collection; transformation of data into usable information and the dissemination of health intelligence to support planning and decision making.
The HIU carries out a number of activities including the annual Victorian Population Health Survey (VPHS). The VPHS was established in 1998 and collects quality information at the State, regional and local government area levels, about the lifestyle, wellbeing, and health of adult Victorians, aged 18 years and over. A large amount of data is collected, analysed and reported each year. The HIU decided that area specific information could also be disseminated via a health atlas. It wanted to find a solution that was user-friendly, technically sophisticated and cost-effective.
"All the functions we needed were available in the package and we were able to present our data as an atlas very quickly. We found we didn't need any formal training because it was very intuitive," she says. "We first started using it to display data on the prevalence of obesity and diabetes in Victoria, by local government area. When we showed other areas in the department what we could do with the software, they were also very interested in exploring its potential to display other types of information."
Meeting the need
Using the data the HIU had collected over the years, the team developed a Health Status Atlas. This is a graphic presentation of public health statistics, indicators, geographic patterns, and trends over time. The Atlas is public facing and Yelena says the intention is that anyone can access the data and work with it to extract the information they need. "It also provides a tool for monitoring the performance of health interventions and presenting health survey results. The data and maps are relevant to anyone interested in the health of the community in general, and in particular to health researchers, epidemiologists, data managers and GIS experts," says Yelena. As for feedback, Yelena says this has been very positive and the Unit was asked to produce similar atlases for the seven health regions within the state of Victoria.
The HIU has now produced individual health atlases for the seven regions within Victoria, with data for each of the 79 local government areas. The next step, according to Yelena is to update the atlas with the most recently collected data. "This will allow users to see change over time, and is particularly valuable for those people in the Department who do not have a GIS capacity and need to visualise the geographical patterns of the available data," she says. "It means we will be able to quickly identify areas that need attention."
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