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Dade to get online health report card

By Mike Wells
5/18/2010 © Health News Florida

Don’t bother looking in your mailbox for Miami-Dade’s next annual community health report card. The Health Council of South Florida has announced plans to take the county’s health information online with a “living report card” when it launches the “Miami Matters” website today.

According to organizers, the site will serve as a data depository for quality-of-life indicators, such as: How many Miami-Dade families live in poverty? How does the area compare to other counties in newly reported HIV cases? How many Miami-Dade adults need and receive mental health care?

Miami Matters replaces the county’s 20-page community health report card, which was printed every three years, most recently in 2007. The new website’s list of indicators will be updated more often and the information will be accessible to more people, organizers say.

By using this free resource, they say, concerned residents, decision makers and community-based organizations should be able to identify potential trouble in their neighborhoods. Portions of the site will allow users to zoom in on data by zip code, showing the current number of reported cases of infectious diseases, their rate of growth from previous reporting dates and contributing factors.

The site premieres at 11 a.m. during the HCSF’s annual luncheon meeting in the Danielson Gallery at Miami’s Biltmore Hotel.

The new site was designed as a road map for collaborative community improvement, organizers say. For example, it will be used as evaluation tool for the county’s recently awarded $14.7-million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to reduce obesity in Miami-Dade County.

Organizers say Miami Matters also will promote best practice sharing, link and direct users to more complicated and detailed health databases and provide an asset map that supports grant-making.

In a news release issued on Monday, organizers did not provide the Miami Matters’ online address, but they said its design and content would resemble those of the San Francisco Department of Health (www.HealthMattersinSF.org) and Whatcom County in Washington (www.WhatcomCounts.org).

Whatcom’s version launched in 2006 and is maintained by the Whatcom Coalition for Health Communities. Whatcom County Community Health Manager Astrid Newell told Health News Florida that it's turned out to be a nice repository for information, but she said there has been no official evaluation of its effectiveness. 

In the beginning, the data were presented without context, which made it difficult for the general public to use, Newell said. But she said there have been recent improvements.

The county health department is not using the site in any official capacity, she said. “One of the challenges we’ve seen with the site is that some of the data is not up to date or it’s not been clear where the data came from or it doesn’t match up with data we get from the state.” 

--Mike Wells is an independent journalist in Tampa. Questions or comments may be sent to Carol Gentry, Editor.