Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Health Data Systems on the Rise

The Arizona Health Query (AZHQ) database integrates and analyzes millions of healthcare records. By analyzing data over time and across health systems, researchers are able to identify specific community health needs and also inform others on public policy.

The system at was created by the Arizona State University’s Center for Health Information and Research (CHiR) and uses SAS software. The information is consolidated from health information available from dozens of healthcare organizations in the state to form the community health data system. Previously, patient data was spread across different healthcare providers which hindered research on community health issues.

“The system makes it possible to track patients over time by location and to identify trends and patterns in healthcare within and across communities,” said Wade Bannister, Creator of the AZHQ Database and Associate Director for CHiR.

According to William Johnson, Founder of AZHQ and the Director for CHiR “SAS predictive analytics presents an opportunity to assess risk factors and to predict costs for patient care years in advance so that steps can be taken to alleviate costs through intervention and more informed budget decisions.”

More than 40 data partners including Medicaid’s Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System took part in the project. So far, AZHQ has consolidated data on 9 million people and 200 million healthcare encounters while pulling data from more than 60 healthcare delivery institutions that includes hospitals, insurers, and employers.

Researchers have used AZHQ to analyze health disparities in Hispanic and non-Hispanic children and were able to study the evolution of Valley fever asthma patterns in Arizona to determine if the hospitals are effectively serving the needy. AZHQ is also studying MRSA a staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics. By tracking the disease’s spread by zip code, researchers are able to determine how and why MRSA spreads.

Other states such as Missouri have available health information on their Missouri Information for Community Assessment (MICA) System. Their system is an interactive internet tool for communities and public health professionals used to access health information and data. The system enables users to access health information, set policies, guide health programs, and educate policymakers and citizens on their community’s health status. By logging into the Missouri Department of Health’s homepage at, an individual can summarize health data, calculate rates, and prepare information in a graphic format for presentations.

North Carolina has developed the Comprehensive Assessment for Tracking Community Health (CATCH) system that provides the public and others with a wide array of demographic and community health data, along with comparisons with peer counties and the state. In addition, the NC-CATCH “Indicator Fact Sheets” supply users with trends in indicators over time, as well as breakdowns by race and ethnicity for many health measures.

North Carolina’s system at is a collaborative effort developed by the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte under a contract funded by the North Carolina Division of Public Health. Funds for the system were also provided by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

The system is in the first phase however, a feature to enable user defined data queries for approved state and local public health professionals is under development and expected to roll out in 2009.