This article appeared in the May 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Do you know how well your community stacks up against others? Do you know if community health positively or negatively impacts your local economy? If you know the answers, what kind of plan do you have in place, how are you implementing and tracking the metrics?
The data and answers for these questions exists in various places, but putting it into a common format that helps form a framework around next steps and tracking can be a challenge.
So, what is the importance of community health? Well, there is a trend to living, working and playing in one’s community. Leading organizations, such as AARP, are promoting age-friendly communities that are well-designed to promote health and sustain economic growth. These communities also make for happier, healthier residents of all ages.
Another great example is the Humana Bold Goal Initiative, which is designed to help make the communities they serve 20 percent healthier, through physician, non-profit, business and government partnerships. Together they are addressing social determinants of health including food insecurity, loneliness and social isolation.
So what do these initiatives have in-common? They are taking a collaborative approach and focusing on the built environment and the understanding of various health factors in a community.
What’s the importance of community health?
Community health has become a major field of study within the medical and clinical sciences, and focuses on the collective maintenance, protection and improvement of the health status of population groups and communities as opposed to the health of individuals.
While the term “community” is broadly defined, “community health” tends to focus on geographical areas rather than people with shared characteristics. The health characteristics of a community are often examined using geographic information system (GIS) software and public health datasets. Some projects, such as InfoShare or GEOPROJ combine GIS with existing datasets, allowing the general public to examine the characteristics of any given community in participating countries.
The success of community health programs relies upon the transfer of information from health professionals to the general public. Georgia as a state is ranked 41st out of 50 states in health, and to add to that we are the eighth “most stressed” state according to WalletHub. Imagine what we would look like if we were ranked in the top 10 in health.
So how do we get started on building community health?
First, look at the assets in your community. What does the park and trail system look like? What about the condition of the sidewalks? What kind of businesses exist or what kind of businesses would you like to attract? Businesses are great partners—especially medical professionals. One great partnership idea is a veterinarian clinic. Over my years of hosting events I receive more and more requests from families about bringing their “furkid.” We have Walk with the Doc programs, why not Walk with the Vet?
Aside from the medical field, there are many other partnership opportunities. Look around and do an inventory of the assets in your community and you’ll find your partners. Certainly you’ll find health advocates within your community, either professional or volunteer. These are the folks that make great ambassadors for creating programs and bringing friends.
How is technology playing a role?
I’ve said it many times: technology is the glue that brings everything together. We live in a technology filled world, why not bridge the gap with some of these ideas:
- Park RX: Doctors prescribing parks to prevent and treat chronic disease, while also connecting to health record systems.
- Innovative Dog Parks, Newtown Dream Dog Park in Johns Creek: It’s a fenced one-acre area featuring artificial turf, sprinklers for dogs to play in, obstacles to play on, plus water fountains for people and pets. It offers separate areas for large and small dogs, along with benches, shelters and shade trees.
- Recent Georgia Tech Project: Sidewalks are often unsafe, exposing pedestrians, wheelchair users, travelers with strollers and persons carrying heavy loads all to unnecessary risk. However, prioritizing sidewalk repairs and improvements requires knowledge about the current system state.
- iBeacons/WayPoints: These are new techniques cities are starting to use as ways to not only engage with their community but also track foot traffic.
- Gamification techniques: These are innovative ways to engage with a reward for healthier behaviors. An example is the PokemonGo and FitBit launch, which gave way to a 20 percent increase in the number of steps taken.
By combining built environment data with clinical care, health behaviors, social and economic factors and quality of life this can give one a tremendous viewpoint on the state of their community. If you are interested in learning more about data sets, technology and types of programs to implement in your community let us know. We are putting a training program together with templates that you can use in your community. For more information send me an email at popovic@ mindspring.com