The City Health Dashboard Helps Over 900 Cities Leverage Local Health Metrics
Jan. 3, 2024
NYU Langone Health
City Health Dashboard by the Numbers
Participating cities and municipalities: 973 and counting
Metrics measured: 41
Largest city: New York City, 8.5 million
Smallest city: Ellsworth, Maine, 8,500
Total users: 253,456
Page views: 2 million+
NYU Langone Health launched the City Health Dashboard five years ago to help cities nationwide understand the health metrics that impact their local populations. Here, the project’s leader, Marc Gourevitch, MD, MPH, Muriel G. and George W. Singer Professor of Population Health, and professor of Medicine and Psychiatry, discusses the inspiration for the dashboard and how policymakers and community leaders are leveraging the data for good.
How would you explain the City Health Dashboard to those hearing about it for the first time?
The City Health Dashboard provides a host of actionable data about health and social determinants of health in a user-friendly way. Upon searching for a city on the dashboard, local data for 41 unique health metrics is made available for free. Over 900 cities nationwide now have a dashboard, from big urban hubs like New York City to small towns like Ellsworth, Maine. We’ve been fortunate to receive funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for the Dashboard since its inception.
What was the inspiration for launching the City Health Dashboard?
I was having conversations with colleagues around the country who work with mayors and community leaders. They relayed that too often, city leaders had trouble setting health-related goals because they lacked data on how the population they serve was doing. Most health data in the US is organized at the county and state levels, and city officials would see these reports and glaze over because they didn’t apply specifically to their municipal boundaries. That sparked the idea to use our analytical expertise to take national data and reanalyze it based on municipal boundaries to provide actionable, locally specific data. The City Health Dashboard is run by a team of 14 faculty and staff within NYU Langone’s Department of Population Health, including data analysts and staff who partner with cities to get the word out.
How are cities employing the data?
It's been used in many different ways. Our initial grant was to work with four cities—Kansas City, Kansas; Waco, Texas; Flint, Michigan; and Providence, Rhode Island. We visited each city and talked to officials to understand what resources would be most helpful. In Waco, for example, they were routinely spending some of their limited resources on a community health assessment. Now that has been largely replaced by data available on the City Health Dashboard. Providence leveraged the dashboard in its push to increase physical activity by neighborhood, using it to help identify limiting factors like the absence of streetlights and high crime levels. We continue to be surprised at all the ways the data are proving valuable.
What are some of the challenges?
It can be tricky to present data that is sophisticated and rigorous enough to be the basis for setting priorities while at the same time making it accessible, so that smaller cities don’t require a well-resourced data and analytics team to interpret it. Beyond this, some of the data is from big national surveys. While these datasets are accurate, they can be outdated by the time they become available two to three years later. For example, the rate of diabetes in a city is relatively stable, but the statistics documenting the opioid overdose crisis numbers three years ago can feel like ancient history. Finding alternative data sources to extract more timely numbers at scale is a key challenge, but we’re working on that.
Has the Dashboard inspired other Population Health projects?
Absolutely. Last winter, we launched the Congressional District Health Dashboard in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The site highlights data related to health and social determinants for all 435 US Congressional districts. This benefits not only constituents but also political leaders. Even if you're a member of Congress, you don't necessarily have access to data that is specific to your entire district. You’re probably relying on state and county data, and the boundaries don’t always line up. Congressional districts are unique geographic areas that change whenever re-districting takes place. This new dashboard fills the gap and helps keep politicians accountable. It’s probably not surprising that elected officials may try to leverage the data for political advantage. We aim to keep the data neutral, so Congress focuses on using the information to improve public health.