'Data is essential to care for at-risk populations': Francine Axler, PHMC - Technical.ly Philly

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Mar. 16, 2011 10:00 am

‘Data is essential to care for at-risk populations’: Francine Axler, PHMC

Public health institute PHMC has a lot of different interests, from managing 250 programs and 11 subsidiaries in case management, rehabilitation and related services. The data is meant to inform that work.

Public Health Management Corporation isn’t a technology company. In truth, it isn’t really a data company, but Senior Research Associate Francine Axler says they do a lot of the latter and are increasingly relevant to the former.

“We collect the largest local health survey in the country,” says Axler, who is the Director of the Center City-based nonprofit’s Community Health Database. And data, of course, tells stories, increasingly with technology.

The analysis of the latest of these surveys just landed in recent weeks, finding trends in health insurance coverage and the effects of calorie labeling.

“This data is essential. It’s the baseline information that over 400 small, medium and large organization use to target their work for at-risk populations,” she says. “It’s really at the center of outreach work in this region.”

Public health institute PHMC has a lot of different interests, from managing 250 programs and 11 subsidiaries in case management, rehabilitation and related services. The data is meant to inform that work.

Published every other year, PHMC uses 20-minute phone surveys to collect responses about some 13,000 adults and children in the region, with randomized land-line and cell phone calls. The survey has focused on Philly since 1983 and broadened to Southeast Pennsylvania in 1991.

Health data — Findings from the latest PHMC regional survey. Find more here.

  • “More than one in ten SEPA adults 18-64 years of age (11.4%) and 3.4% of Southeastern PA children 0-17 years of age do not have health insurance coverage. The percentage of adults without health insurance coverage has slightly increased from 2008 and slightly decreased among children. “
  • “More than one in three adults residing in SEPA (34.6%) have bet money on card games, casino or internet gambling, bingo, lottery or scratch-off tickets, sports, pool or other activities.”
  • “Nearly one in seven adults in SEPA (13.9%) has a physical, mental, or emotional disability or condition.”

From the hard copy reports of the past, PHMC has noticeably moved into the data visualization world, adding online data analysis tools for client organizations. One tracks trends in data from up to 2000, for now, and another compares in time to other geographic areas of the region.

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And that proves a blessing and a curse. PMHC data is intensely, locally focused, so when looking to contrast other parts in the country, mostly researchers need to use county-level information or more broad U.S. Census and American Community Survey results.

“It wold be great if more counties in Pennsylvania or more places in the country had this data to compare, but, with very little exception, they don’t,” Axler, a 20-year veteran of PHMC and a Temple University alumnae.

That proves problematic when you look at Montgomery County, which is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, but has corners of extreme poverty, she says.

Axler added: “The most detailed data we can manage is a good way to get closer to the truth.”

PMHC receives funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the United Way and the William Penn Foundation, in addition to organizations that contract out the data. [Full Disclosure: Technically Philly’s Transparencity project is funded by the William Penn Foundation.]

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