Public health data now at fingertips of researchers
The County of Santa Clara recently released a powerful new tool that allows anyone to easily dig into public health data and slice it up in countless illuminating ways.
At the unveiling of the Department of Public Health’s open data portal on Sept. 4, Deputy Director Rocio Luna said the tool is an improvement on department’s commitment to transparency and innovation.
Free public health data
Now, anyone willing to spend a little time learning to use the portal will be able to mine the data independently. They can anonymously download as much data as they wish, query it and combine it for any purpose in any format — at no cost to the user.
At the recent unveiling, County data analysts demonstrated how to use the portal. A roomful of interested nonprofits and other community representatives looked on.
To make the portal even more convenient, the department pieced together 10 story maps on popular topics. Even those with only the most rudimentary computer skills can use. All they have to do is click on a button and dive in.
“This portal is really groundbreaking for us,” Luna said. “You’ll be able to find and download data down to the neighborhood level.”
How can an ordinary person use it?
Let’s suppose it seems like a lot of Asian women in your neighborhood have been diagnosed with cancer lately. The open data portal just might provide insight. Perhaps the numbers will confirm your suspicion and spur you to investigate further. Or maybe they’ll put your mind at ease by indicating the rate is unremarkable.
Similarly, nonprofits concerned with, say, smoking among Latino youth can pull out the data. From there, they make a case for grant funding to combat it or push for a policy change at City Hall.
Users can download entire datasets if they wish, or filter the data before downloading it. Of course, columns of numbers are difficult to comprehend at a glance. Luckily, with the push of a button, users can make charts and maps to visualization of trends over time or identify hot spots.
Reliable data sources
County officials say users can rest assured that the data is reliable, up to date and clean. Some of it comes from the County Public Health Department’s state and national public health partners. Other databases were purchased from nongovernment sources and public agencies not formally connected to the County Public Health Department.
Other County departments also incorporate their data into the portal.
It was Supervisor Ken Yeager who pushed for the health section of the portal’s development. He sees the portal as a part of his lasting imprint as he terms out of County office at the end of the year.
“Data at the neighborhood level helps programs work better and smarter to address health inequities in our county,” Yeager said. “This is part of the County’s investment to support local nonprofits, city governments and residents with the data they need to run great programs.”
— Chuck Carroll