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A Web-Based Tool for Assessing and Improving the Usefulness of Community Health Assessments

Stoto, Michael A. PhD; Straus, Susan G. PhD; Bohn, Cate MPH; Irani, Priti MS

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: January-February 2009 - Volume 15 - Issue 1 - p 10–17
doi: 10.1097/01.PHH.0000342944.48703.21
Tools for Evaluating the Impacts of Community Health Assessments

Background Little information is available on characteristics of successful and unsuccessful community health assessment (CHA) reports.

Methods A consensus process identified criteria for assessing CHA success from a literature review, analysis of CHAs on the Internet, and consultation with experts. Criteria were then turned into questionnaire items. Using these items, a Web-based tool was developed to gather responses from 110 users and potential users about the strengths and weaknesses of CHAs from six New York counties and three from other states.

Findings Respondents tended to rate CHAs positively, with high scores for including important aspects of health, using consistent formats, reproducibility by photocopy, and supporting grant applications. Community health assessments were given low scores because of a lack of focus on positive characteristics and documentation of methods, and failure to indicate relationships among indicators, include narrative and graphics, and be similar to other community planning tools in use.

Conclusions Community health assessment reports should state their goals and purpose; include the most important aspects of the community's health; allow comparisons with other communities, other benchmarks, and, over time, present data in meaningful subgroups of population; provide sufficient focus on positive characteristics; and document the process and methods that are used to create the CHA.

This article discusses a Web-based tool for assessing and improving the usefulness of community health assessments from six New York counties and three from other states.

Michael A. Stoto, PhD, is Professor of Health Systems Administration and Population Health at Georgetown University in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. As an epidemiologist, statistician, and health policy analyst, Professor Stoto's research focuses on public health practice, especially with regard to preparedness, the evaluation of public health interventions, and infectious disease policy, and ethical issues in research and public health practice.

Susan G. Straus, PhD, is Behavioral Scientist, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California; and Adjunct Associate Professor, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Cate Bohn, MPH, is Community Health Information Specialist, Public Health Information Group, Center for Community Health, New York State Department of Health, Albany.

Priti Irani, MS, is Project Director, NY-Assessment Initiative Project, Public Health Information Group, Center for Community Health, New York State Department of Health, Albany.

Corresponding Author: Michael A. Stoto, PhD, School of Nursing and Health Studies, Georgetown University, 235 St Mary's Hall, Washington, DC 20057 (

The authors are grateful to Chris Corey and John Zambrano of RAND for their help in developing and implementing the Web-based survey tool, as well as to the many community health assessment users and others who contributed their time and energy to the various stages of this project.

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.