Williams, M., Dubowitz,T., Jacobson, D., Leuschner, K.J., Miyashiro, L., Steiner, E.D., & Weden, M.M. (2011). Mapping the Gaps: Ideas for Using GIS to Enhance Local Health Department Priority Setting and Program Planning. The RAND Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR1146.html.
To determine whether the services they provide are meeting population needs, local health departments (LHDs) use a variety of formal and informal assessments, including community health assessments and communitywide health-improvement plans. Despite these efforts, the services do not always meet the needs, for a variety of reasons, including competing funding priorities, political mandates, and natural shifts in population makeup and health concerns. Geographic information system (GIS) mapping software provides a promising tool to enhance priority-setting and resource allocation for LHDs by displaying complex geospatial information in an integrated and visual way, enabling staff to compare the geographic distribution of population health in a community (i.e., where services are needed) with the geographic distribution of LHD programs and expenditures (i.e., where services are provided). Using such an approach, LHDs can identify gaps between program services and community health needs. This report presents findings from interviews with 65 staff at four LHDs and three case studies to test potential solutions for how maps can be used to address the gaps between public health needs and LHD services. It describes options for accessing easy-to-use, no-cost GIS data and tools and suggests ways in which LHDs can integrate new GIS approaches into their activities.