How Baltimore's health department is using data to keep seniors from falling - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Feb. 5, 2016 12:56 pm

How Baltimore’s health department is using data to keep seniors from falling

With a new grant, the Health Department will look to make healthcare data about falls more quickly and widely available. And that's just the beginning.

Big data.

(Photo by Flickr user janholmquist, used under a Creative Commons license)

Baltimore public health officials believe that more data can help reduce falls among seniors.

With a recently-awarded $200,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Baltimore City Health Department will begin to lay the groundwork for introducing more data into efforts to prevent people age 65 and older from falling. The goal is to reduce falls by one-third over three years.

The Health Department is planning to both gather and spread data among healthcare institutions like Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, as well as community partners like AARP, affordable housing provider GEDCO and Civic Works.

"We can see in real-time whether our interventions are working."
Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen

Healthcare data for the region is already gathered and shared in the Chesapeake Regional Information System for our Patients (CRISP). The first task will be harnessing that data to determine where falls are happening, said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen.

The department wants to speed up how quickly the information is shared, and spread the data more widely. Currently, Baltimore City Health Department CIO Mike Fried said the data isn’t available to the health department for months, and most of the partners don’t receive the information.

“Half of this is, how do we get a faster feedback on where falls are happening?” Fried said.

Then, public health officials can add other types of data like housing, or social factors available from other agencies to determine whether patterns emerge about where falls are occurring. As trends emerge, they want to be able to tailor specific ways to prevent falls that come from the data.

“We can see in real-time whether our interventions are working,” Wen said.

Baltimore City is one of 10 entities to receive a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Data Across Sectors for Health program. The first step is building up IT and technical capabilities, and the city will also look to hire a part-time program manager.

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The effort to address falls is considered a pilot. Wen said falls are frequent across the U.S., as one in three members of the population over 65 falls every year. In terms of the use of data, a fall represents a “discrete episode that is clearly preventable,” as opposed to a condition like heart disease that has a variety of internal and external factors.

But city officials envision branching out down the road.

Overall, the program is reflective of a belief that, by sharing more data, health agencies to be more effective at preventing and treating ailments. Wen sees the Health Department as a convener of all of the different agencies.

The grant helps provide “a way for us to build a scalable framework that we’ll then be adding to,” she said.

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Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is the lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. A graduate of Northeastern University, he moved to Baltimore following a stint in New Orleans, where he served as managing editor of online news and culture publication NOLA Defender. While there, he also wrote for NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. He was previously a reporter for the Rio Grande Sun of Northern New Mexico.

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