2021 NC Rural Health Snapshot

About Data Indicators

Indicators are powerful tools for monitoring and communicating critical information about population health. They are useful to support planning, for example, identifying priorities or targeting resources, and for tracking progress towards broad community objectives. They help to engage partners into civic and collaborative action by helping to build awareness of problems and trends. In addition, they help inform policy and policy makers and can be used to promote accountability among governmental and non-governmental agencies.

Three Essential Criteria for Health Indicators

Given a set of indicators, it is possible to use criteria to select the best way to represent the result. If we had a thousand measures, we could still not fully capture the health and well-being of rural populations. We use data to approximate these conditions and to stand as proxies for them.

There are three criteria which can be used to identify the best measures:

Data power is that the data for the indicator were created from high-quality data collection methods, complete, unbiased and that the data are available and updated on a regular basis.

Second is proxy power and that indicator says something important about health — that it’s meaningful to health. Proxy power also pulls other indicators along with it. For example, the immunization rate is not only an important indicator for child health and the prevention of communicable diseases, but also indicates that children have access to care.

Third, communication power, is whether the indicator speaks to a broad and diverse audience. If you had to explain the result you want for your community, for example, healthier behaviors, how would you present indicators so that your friends and neighbors would understand what is meant by healthier behaviors? You might cite decreases in smoking rates or increases in physical activity, for example.