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September 26th, 2017

Teaching an old REP new tricks—Rochester Epidemiology Project partnering with local Public Health

By Elizabeth Zimmermann

 

Dan Jensen, M.P.H., is the associate director, Olmsted County Public Health; and director, Olmsted County Preventive Services.


The Rochester Epidemiology Project (REP) has supported over 2,600 peer-reviewed scientific research publications covering a span of more than 50 years. Recent REP additions of the data exploration portal, adding Olmsted County Public Health data, and supporting public health community assessments are laying the foundation for even greater future success.

The addition of the data exploration portal harnesses the power of the REP for use by health professionals as well as the public. When testing an initial hypothesis in development of a grant proposal, or seeking understanding about a disease, the portal allows verifications in their area of interest. As always, the REP can then support the scientific rigor required by professionals once the project is approved. The portal also allows anyone to quickly understand the prevalence of a disease within the 27 represented counties. Previously if a resident of Steele County was studying a disease they were impacted by, it would take considerable work to try and understand how common that disease is in their county. Often the best they could hope to find is how common the disease is within Minnesota. With the Rochester Epidemiology Project’s portal users can quickly understand how common a given disease is by age, gender, and when a second disease is present. It is also easy to determine commonality within their county and compared to the surrounding 27 county region.

Clients leaving Olmsted County Public Health Services main building, in Rochester, Minnesota.

From a public health perspective, understanding our communities allows us to better focus our limited resources or decide which grants we want to pursue that would make the greatest impact to improve the health of our community.  The REP Portal allows us to rapidly test these ideas and assist in data driven decision determinations about the health of our community. Previously we lacked quick access to local information and would often spend more time tracking down less desirable statewide rates used as proxy measures for what may be happening locally. The REP portal has not only saved us time, but improved our data quality.

Local health departments are required to conduct regular Community Health Needs Assessments to recognize significant and emerging issues impacting our local communities, then use the assessment results to develop a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). Understanding the value of the REP data in this process, we chose to become a full REP partner in 2015 and, with client approval, are combining our unique local public health data with the REP data. During our last Olmsted County Community Health Needs Assessment, we leveraged the REP to better understand Olmsted’s status in the areas of:

  • Prevalence of falls requiring medical attention for residents 65 and older
  • Proportion of those 65 and older who were prescribed medications in five or more classes within the past year
  • Rates of depression in the community
  • Develop an understanding of individuals with multiple chronic conditions
  • Prevalence of asthma, hypertension and COPD
  • Determine which portions of the community are following recommended guidelines for screenings such as: mammography, colorectal cancer screening, and diabetes management

As a local public health professional, I find it exciting to increase the richness of the REP through inclusion of local health department data. I also appreciate the REP partnership that improves our community health needs assessment, which in turn, supports enhanced local health programs that lead to a healthier community.

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Tags: About, Community Health Needs Assessment, Dan Jensen, data exploration portal, Innovations, OCPHS, Olmsted County Public Health Service, Opportunities, population health, Progress Updates, public health, REP, research, Rochester Epidemiology Project

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