Group launches online ZIP code atlas of population health, USA

Group launches online ZIP code atlas of population health, USA

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USA – A public health organization will launch an online database this fall that could help forecast the demand for health care services in specific locations for chronic conditions including diabetes, obesity, and HIV.

The National Minority Quality Forum has created the “ZIP Code Analysis Project” to collect data on disease activity among both general and minority populations by postal code.

The project already has a diabetes atlas online. The database shows differences in the prevalence of diabetes across a map of the U.S., as well as noticeable annual changes. This fall atlases will be available for cardiovascular disease, obesity, HIV and chronic kidney disease.

Gary Puckrein, chief executive officer of the forum, said the project will also makes local data widely available for the first time on disease prevalence among minorities.

There are good statistics available at a “10,000-foot view,” he said. But before the project started, “there was no good data by which we could actually figure out at the local level what was happening to minority populations.”

Puckrein, who spoke this week at the Center for Health Transformation’s meeting on Medicaid, said the project has now amassed 500 million patient records.

The project will make the data available nationally, by state, congressional district, state legislative district and other geographic areas. It also can be sorted by age, gender and various minority status. The organization can sort the data into even finer demographic slices, according to the staff.

Registration online is required for using the information. The Web site says the information will be available to advocacy groups, similar nonprofit organizations and policy-makers.

The data can help planners forecast the demand for health care services in particular locations, said Puckrein, who noted that health care consumption is driven by a combination of disease prevalence and local service capacity.

For example, the system could help forecast the volume of Medicare patients who would tend to have an acute cardiovascular event in a particular ZIP code. “The numbers are that stable,” Puckrein said. “The ability to forecast means the ability to intervene in a timely way.”

The project has found, he said, that although there are 38,000 ZIP codes in the U.S., 88 percent of diabetics live in only 8,000 ZIP codes. Further, he indicated, 50 percent of the diabetics under Medicare reside in 4,000 ZIP codes.

Puckrein also said the project can predict for the Medicare population in a particular ZIP code, for example, that 10 percent of the health care “under-utilizers” would become crisis consumers next year and 30 percent of crisis consumers will become “heavy” consumers.

And because data can be displayed by congressional members’ districts, he told the audience, “You can have a very important conversation with them now about the numbers.”