Q. Why might values in WTN differ from those on the national CDC Tracking Network portal?
A. Specific core data and measurement values presented here may vary from those presented on the CDC EPHTN portal. One reason for this is the use of national population data sources such as US Census or National Center for Health Statistics data for population counts. WTN uses population counts prepared by the Washington State Office of Financial Management (OFM). For some regions where rapid growth has occurred, national and OFM population numbers may be quite different, which affects the calculation of rates. Additional details may be included in the Data Notes sections associated with specific indicators and measures.Return to top of FAQQ. What is tracking?
A. Public health tracking and public health surveillance are one and the same. Environmental public health tracking means collecting and organizing reliable health and environmental data on a systematic, ongoing basis. Tracking, or surveillance, helps us understand the status of the community’s health and how it might be changing over time. Building a tracking network in Washington State and in the United States provides an easy place to look at a variety of information, with the goal of improving overall community health.Return to top of FAQQ. Why is environmental public health tracking important?
A. Return to top of FAQQ. What if I can’t find the data I need?
"We can track the flu, West Nile virus, and mad cow disease but not enough of the chronic illnesses that are the biggest killers of Americans, because we just don't have enough of that basic information."
-- Thomas Burke, PhD, Johns Hopkins University
You probably have seen examples of public health tracking in the news. The spread of infectious diseases like polio, SARS, and avian flu has been checked by effectively isolating or avoiding the single virus or other specific organism that is known to cause the disease. Infectious disease surveillance systems are important tools to keep infectious disease under control.
Unfortunately, many present-day diseases are caused by exposure to factors in the environments where people live, work, play, and learn. Environmentally-related diseases like diabetes, asthma, birth defects, and lead poisoning have not fit the same pattern that infectious diseases do, and the old methods for tracking infectious diseases are inadequate. The data that describe environmental hazards and exposures have often been incomplete and thus not useful for helping to figure out how to reduce risk.
Tracking environmental hazard, exposure, and health outcome data together allows a starting point for asking more specific questions about aspects of population health. It can also show citizens how well public health is working in their community.
A. Keep checking back for more topics and data as time goes on. The Washington Tracking Network plans to continue growing a library of data, measures, and indicators. If you have an interest in particular data, please email: DOH.WTN@doh.wa.gov. We will keep a record of requests which will inform data and indicator priorities for the future.Return to top of FAQQ. I just want to look at data for my county. How do I do that?
If you have chosen a topic that does not give you the detail you need, check on the right side of your screen in the list of Related Resources. Often, these listed items will link you to the original data source at the Department of Health or other agency. Many Related Resources point to the latest thinking on the topic you are exploring.
A. You can go to the blue navigation bar under the header and click on Data Measures by County and Choose Location from Map. You will get a list of all data, indicators, and measures that are available for your county. Keep clicking on the icons next to the listed indicators to reach data displays.Return to top of FAQQ. What is the difference between an indicator and a measure?
Over time, data available by county will change and grow more diverse, depending on factors and requests specific to each county. Be sure to keep checking back for future additions, including data at sub-county levels.
A.Return to top of FAQQ. What are environmental public health tracking (EPHT) indicators, and why look at them?
You are already familiar with the idea of indicators and measures in terms of weather reports. It is hard to use a single number to describe good or bad weather. Instead, we use indicators (like wind chill factor and dew point) and measures (like barometric pressure and air temperature) to help us guide any weather-related decisions we may want to make.Measures
are factors that can be directly quantified and stored as data points. Some examples are number of premature births in a year, or number of hospitalizations for heart attack in a year. Indicators
are shorthand methods of describing something, often combining measurable characteristics together. Indicators can be very simple—sometimes equivalent to a single measure—or more complicated, as when measures are averaged or combined with related measures to give a broader picture of the health issue of interest.
Health indicators and measures are useful in community report cards to show improvement or deterioration in health matters that are important to those communities. You can find various indicators and measures by going to a topic and submitting a query—that is, framing a question about data using different characteristics (e.g., timeframe or method of calculating averages) that fit your needs.
Pros and cons of using specific measures and indicators on the Washington Tracking Network can be found in Data Notes that appear below the indicators that you are seeing. More information on environmental public health indicators developed by others can be found in the Environmental Public Health Toolbox – see Discover EPH Indicators
A.Return to top of FAQQ. Why are some data restricted?
EPHT indicators represent an attempt to establish standardized measures of particular environment and health conditions across many states, where all participants use the same calculation methods. The Environmental Public Health Tracking Network has identified and generated a common set of indicators and measures in several topic areas related to environment and health. These topics include, among others, air quality, asthma, cardiovascular disease, childhood lead exposure, and drinking water. These core EPHT indicators make it possible to look up a particular health statistic and compare those statistics across counties of similar size in different states. See the About This Project
page for a list of the core EPHT indicators currently available on the Washington Tracking Network.
Although the data used to generate the EPHT indicators are not new – public health has been conducting this surveillance for many years – the EPHT indicators and measures are pre-calculated to make it easier to readily compare standardized data over time and across state and local jurisdictions.
A.Return to top of FAQQ. How do I query the data to obtain results separated by sub-group (such as such as age group, or gender)?
The privacy of individuals’ health data is protected by law. When the number of cases of a health condition is small and the total number of people from which the case(s) come is small, those particular data cannot be made public since it could be possible to trace the data back to individuals. Since the risk for a breach of confidentiality is higher when reporting small numbers, some health data are “suppressed” or “restricted”.
In order to ensure protection of confidential data, the Washington Tracking Network makes agreements with data providers that include rules to ensure that confidentiality is maintained directly (for example, requiring a password to view restricted data)and indirectly (by suppressing very small numbers).
Authorized public health practitioners (for example, local public health epidemiologists) sometimes need to use these data in order to carry out critical public health prevention and response activities. Authorized public health practitioners in Washington use the Community Health Assessment Tool (CHAT)
from the Department of Health to obtain access to restricted data sets.
Public health professionals who are registered CHAT users may enter the “Restricted Access” gateway on the WTN Portal home page to access data sets in CHAT.
A.Return to top of FAQ
Query options differ among measures as needed to best display data and address issues related to small numbers of observations. When numbers are small, some parameter values may be aggregated (for example, you may not be able to query single years, but only three-year periods). Similarly, you may not be able to disaggregate multiple parameters simultaneously (for example,if you want data by county, you may not be able to select individual age groups). If you can see that there is a parameter available, such as geography, but no options appear available for you to obtain disaggregated results, try aggregating other parameters, such as by changing age to all-ages-combined, and then check to see if you can now disaggregate the other parameter. For some measures with small numbers, you may be able to stratify only one or two parameters at a time. For some measures where the numbers are very small, few options for sub-group analysis are possible on the WTN public portal; if you need to conduct sub-group analysis, you might want to contact assessment staff in your local health agency
, who have access to the restricted data in CHAT.