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Three Keys to Community Health Needs Assessment

Updated: Apr 4

Where should you start when you need to do a community health needs assessment (CHNA)? The first challenge most organizations face when starting a new CHNA process is selecting the indicators and health needs they will use to assess their community. It can be an overwhelming task -- there are hundreds of indicators and data sources to choose from, and all sorts of different indicator frameworks (e.g. County Health Rankings, HEAL, etc.)

We’ve found that the most successful organizations follow three key principles:

1. Ensure your community assessment considers your most at-risk populations.

Vulnerable populations are at risk for disparate healthcare access and outcomes because of economic, cultural, racial, or health characteristics. If data cannot be broken out by race, for example, you’ll likely miss important differences in health needs across populations; your data won’t show health disparities. Examining data across different populations allows you to see that people in the your community have different lived experiences, resulting in different health risks and needs. Knowing the specific health needs a population faces enables you to tailor health improvement efforts to appropriate priority populations and make the most of your CHNA.

2. Use indicators that make sense for your community.

It’s important to consider community context when selecting indicators, and to incorporate data that actually describe your community. This means using data with geographic specificity; if you want to assess a particular neighborhood, it’s probably not helpful to examine county-level data alone. Additionally, it’s okay to use fewer high-quality indicators that are relevant to your community; key takeaways won’t get lost in a long list of indicators. Finally, consider what’s happened in your community that might affect the quality of data -- have there been monumental shifts (e.g. major natural disasters) that make older data irrelevant?

3. Organize the indicators into actionable categories (health needs) that reflect how your organization plans strategically.

Grouping indicators into health needs makes for cleaner CHNA reports, helps users know where to focus community health improvement efforts, and can prompt users to identify areas where they may have leverage to make change. Incorporating health needs that reflect how your organization plans strategically ensures your ability to use CHNA results to build health improvement efforts into your strategic plan. Read more about grouping indicators into health needs in our blog post here.

Need some inspiration?

Check out the way we've organized indicators into 12 health needs (domains) through our work with Kaiser Permanente (KP) to create the Burden of Disease framework. KP's footprint is large and covers many states, but this list of starter indicators provides a robust, consistent foundation upon which they can build by adding relevant, local indicators. This is a great place to start for any organization: data outputs are simple and provide clean, usable reports, but the indicators also encompass actionable health problems most communities face (e.g. access to care, mental health, and substance abuse). We simplify the CHNA process and suggest health needs and indicators tailored to each customer’s assessment and reporting goals.

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