Friday, April 27, 2012

Better Health Care Through Data Collection

Steve Holloway,  Director
CDPHE Primary Care Office
Good public planning depends upon the sound evaluation of accurate and complete data. 

The Primary Care Office at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is among the many organizations across the state that are developing the health professional workforce to meet the state's current and future needs.
Like those other organizations, we are particularly concerned about access to care for medically vulnerable Coloradans in rural and low-income communities. We are interested in how the health care needs of a community match up with the capacity of the health workforce to meet those needs. Evaluating our health workforce development efforts is challenging, however, due to the limited availability of good data.
Currently, health systems researchers must cobble together health professional data from a variety of incomplete and disconnected sources, such as the state health professional licensure system, proprietary databases, professional associations, and direct survey methods. As with any process that is dependent upon an unsystematic, and often wholly voluntary return of data, the evaluation conclusions we reach are tentative at best and, inevitably, imperfect.
Fortunately, for those of us who care about access to health services in our state, these evaluation challenges can be overcome by the passage of Pdf Colorado House Bill 1052. This important bill will systematize the collection of health workforce data through the health professional licensure process in the Department of Regulatory Agencies. It also will release that data to the Primary Care Office for evaluation purposes. While protecting the confidentiality of the individual practitioners, the bill will make this data available to nongovernmental researchers and advocacy organizations.
The bill would let us use real information about the clinical contact time of health workers to accurately quantify the professional service time available to communities. This would allow us to identify full-time health care providers, as well as those who are doing clinical work part time. It also tracks health care professionals who are retired, serving in administrative roles or working outside of their professions.
The comprehensive data collection resulting from this bill will give us new information about the practice settings of health professionals, which will help us distinguish between community-based primary care, and hospital or long-term care. As this data will be collected every two years, we will finally be well-positioned for a data driven examination of trends in health professional resources throughout the state of Colorado.
It is always incumbent upon public, academic and philanthropic entities to make the best possible decisions about how to allocate attention and resources. HB 1052 is a vital step towards an important shared goal.

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