Community Assessment


The goal of community health assessment is to recommend policies and to develop interventions, which may ultimately lead to primary prevention.  Community health assessment data should indicate gaps in the delivery of health care services so that future plans and policies can be directed at these areas.  Working knowledge of current health status can aid policy makers and program designers in improving health outcomes. Those who undertake community health assessment must consider many factors, for instance: Which factors/indicators should be measured (e.g. fertility measures, birthrate and infant death rate data)? Why does one want health measurement?  How much funding is available for your study?  Does your data truly reflect what you are trying to measure?  How do you collect and present the data needed to affect changes? 

Communities of individuals, communities of affiliation, and communities of geography are among the several types of communities that may be studied.  When studying any type of community one must conduct an effective needs assessment.  First, you need to define your purpose, your community, and what information you are looking for.  A geographic analysis of the service area may be involved.  You must also decide how to gather the information.  Primary data or reliable secondary data can be used.  At times, the decision about what type of data to use based on the financial resources available, manpower, technology, and time available. Results must be analyzed and evaluated on the community’s health status, after collecting this data.

Following data collection and analysis, the researcher must report which programs were assessed, which were introduced, and which were enhanced over the evaluation period.  At the conclusion, needs that are or not being met in the community should be able to be specified. The results must be introduced to the community in order to acquire the support and involvement of those affected by the programs once an assessment is developed and conducted.  The process of evaluating community health assessment involves a continuous loop which integrates needs assessment, planning, evaluation, and reassessment.

The assessment of community health status is crucial in the development of effective community health programs.  A documented need for resources is required for funding most types of public health ventures.  Strategic program goals and objectives also need to be supported by the collected health status data.  Needs assessment data should be put into an evaluation proposal and report whenever possible.  Researchers that plan to continue their studies at a later date, must also make sure that resources are set aside, or that they will be available in the future.

The most intensive type of data used in need assessment is primary data. This data is gathered directly from the people in your jurisdiction. There are four basic types of primary data (listed from strongest to weakest): community surveys, key informant interviews, focus groups, and community forums.  Community surveys tend to be the best in terms of validity, reliability, and repeatability, even though they all have their strengths and weaknesses   Through these surveys, information from the representative samples of the population assessed are sought. Community surveys are good tools for developing estimates of risk and comparing populations. However, they are expensive and often have problems with response bias and systematic bias.

             Researchers often rely on secondary data, which has been collected previously by other researchers. It is always best to use the data that is most recently available, with secondary data.  Secondary data is available from national, state, regional, and local sources.  Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Virginia Cancer Registry, and South Richmond Study are some examples of secondary data.  One type of secondary data is population data, which includes case reports/surveillance data, and census data.  Another type, health status data, looks at health indicators and health behaviors.  A third type of secondary data, health services data, is based on inventories of services and utilization, as well as planning and evaluation documents.


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