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Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is Environmental Public Health Tracking?
A. Public health tracking and public health surveillance are one and the same. Environmental public health tracking means collecting and organizing reliable health and environmental data on a systematic, ongoing basis. Tracking, or surveillance, helps us understand the status of the community’s health and how it might be changing over time. Building a tracking network in Florida and in the United States provides an easy place to look at a variety of information, with the goal of improving overall community health.
Q. Why is environmental public health tracking important?
A. Many present-day diseases are caused by exposure to factors in the environments where people live, work, play, and learn. Environmentally-related diseases like diabetes, asthma, birth defects, and lead poisoning have not fit the same pattern that infectious diseases do, and the old methods for tracking infectious diseases are inadequate. The data that describe environmental hazards and exposures have often been incomplete and thus not useful for helping to figure out how to reduce risk.
Tracking environmental hazard, exposure, and health outcome data together allows a starting point for asking more specific questions about aspects of population health. It can also show citizens how well public health is working in their community.
Q. Are the numbers on Florida’s website the same as the numbers on the national CDC Tracking Network portal?
A. Specific core data and measurement values presented here may vary from those presented on the CDC EPHTN site. One reason for this is the decision by CDC to use US Census data for population counts, while Florida uses population counts prepared by the Governor’s Estimating Conference. For some counties where rapid growth has occurred, the Census and Florida population numbers are quite different, which affects the calculation of rates. Please also see the Data Notes section in each content area for information on specific indicators and measures.
Q. What are environmental public health tracking (EPHT) indicators, and why look at them?
A. EPHT indicators represent an attempt to establish standardized measures of particular environment and health conditions across many states, where all participants use the same calculation methods. The Environmental Public Health Tracking Network has identified and generated a common set of indicators and measures in several topic areas related to environment and health. These topics include, among others, air quality, asthma, cardiovascular disease, childhood lead exposure, and drinking water. These core EPHT indicators make it possible to look up a particular health statistic and compare those statistics across counties of similar size in different states.
Although the data used to generate the EPHT indicators are not new – public health has been conducting this surveillance for many years – the EPHT indicators and measures are pre-calculated to make it easier to readily compare standardized data over time and across state and local jurisdictions.
Q. What is the difference between an indicator and a measure?
A. You are already familiar with the idea of indicators and measures in terms of weather reports. It is hard to use a single number to describe good or bad weather. Instead, we use indicators (like wind chill factor and dew point) and measures (like barometric pressure and air temperature) to help us guide any weather-related decisions we may want to make.
Measures are factors that can be directly quantified and stored as data points. Some examples are number of premature births in a year, or number of hospitalizations for heart attack in a year. Indicators are shorthand methods of describing something, often combining measurable characteristics together. Indicators can be very simple—sometimes equivalent to a single measure—or more complicated, as when measures are averaged or combined with related measures to give a broader picture of the health issue of interest.
Health indicators and measures are useful in community report cards to show improvement or deterioration in health matters that are important to those communities. You can find various indicators and measures by going to a topic and submitting a query—that is, framing a question about data using different characteristics (e.g., timeframe or method of calculating averages) that fit your needs.
Q. Why are some data restricted?
A. The privacy of individuals’ health data is protected by law. When the number of cases of a health condition is small and the total number of people from which the case(s) come is small, those particular data cannot be made public since it could be possible to trace the data back to individuals. Since the risk for a breach of confidentiality is higher when reporting small numbers, some health data are “suppressed” or “restricted”. In order to ensure protection of confidential data, the Florida Tracking Network makes agreements with data providers that include rules to ensure that confidentiality is maintained directly (for example, requiring a password to view restricted data) and indirectly (by suppressing very small numbers). Authorized public health practitioners (for example, local public health epidemiologists) sometimes need to use these data in order to carry out critical public health prevention and response activities.
Q. What if I can’t find the data I need?
A. Keep checking back for more topics and data as time goes on. The Florida Tracking Network plans to continue growing a library of data, measures, and indicators. If you have an interest in particular data, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org . We will keep a record of requests which will inform data and indicator priorities for the future.