New Health Resources Data on PolicyMap!

With all the talk about health care reform and the Affordable Care Act, there seems to be a growing interest in health data, particularly as it relates to public policy.  PolicyMap is a great tool for analyzing the health infrastructure in an area, and we are always striving to expand the data we make available.  Along these lines, we recently added a new health dataset to PolicyMap showing the availability of health resources across the country. The data comes from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Area Health Resource File (AHRF), a county-level dataset intended for use by a diversity of academic, health, and planning professionals interested in the nation’s health care delivery system.  While the AHRF contains over 6,000 variables, compiled from more than 50 sources, our data team weeded through to identify a handful of indicators that we thought would be valuable to our users, which you will find under the Health tab.

Among the indicators we chose to display on PolicyMap are layers showing the number of health facilities, such as hospital beds and Federally Qualified Health Centers, as well as the rate of health care professionals, such as doctors and dentists per capita.  As seen in the map below, these health professionals data, pulled from the American Medical Association’s Physician and Dentist Masterfiles, make it easy to identify where there may be a shortage of primary care physicians and dentists.  While some argue that doctor house calls may be making a comeback, this seems unlikely given the rate of primary care physicians to residents.

One of the consequences of insufficient access to primary care providers (and dentists) can be increased emergency room usage, another AHRF indicator displaying on PolicyMap. The map below highlights that Maine has a particularly high rate of emergency room visits, which one study found was 30 percent higher than the national average.  In addition to a shortage of health care providers, other factors impacting emergency room usage can include a high rate of uninsured residents, a growing number of psychiatric crisis patients without access to other forms of treatment, and a mounting number of dental patients lacking access to routine dental care.

Stay tuned next week for a blog post about Medically Underserved Areas!  If you know of any other health data that you like to see on PolicyMap, please let us know!