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Data Use and Management

It is important to prioritize data use and management when implementing and evaluating a rural community health program.

Data use refers to the action of reviewing data to inform an action, such as program planning and service delivery. Use of clear, accurate, and appropriate data in day-to-day program activities positions rural communities to effectively implement programs that serve community needs.

Data management refers to the process of collecting, recording, and storing data in a cost-effective, secure, and efficient way. Data management plays a key role in the data collection process and helps optimize data use to make informed decisions that produce sustainable impact for rural community health programs.

Seeking Approval for Data Collection and Use: Institutional Review Boards

An institutional review board (IRB) is a committee designed to review and monitor research involving human participants. IRBs serve a vital role in the protection of the rights and welfare of human research subjects. IRBs protect human research subjects by reviewing research protocols and related materials. Requirements for using an IRB include activities that meet the definition of research and involve human subjects or access to identifiable private information.

Rural communities that need IRB approval may contact an IRB at a local university or research organization to discuss guidelines for affiliating with new organizations. IRB submissions often involve paying a fee and completing an application that describes the scope of the project, planned methods, and plans for using collected data.

Data Management Tools

Rural community health programs can use tools for data management that support effective data collection, storage, and organization. The tools available to support data management range from simple databases to proprietary data management tools:

  • Data collection – Establishing processes and tools to support consistent data collection across different program sites and staff. Examples include checklists, written instructions, protocols, and record-keeping.
  • Data cleaning – Implementing tools and processes to find and correct data errors. Examples include creating variable labels and codes and using statistical software to identify coding errors, missing values, outliers, or inconsistencies.
  • Data backup and storage – Protecting data from damage or hazards using onsite and offsite processes. Examples of data backup include digitizing data, saving copies in different physical locations or devices, and using cloud storage. Examples of secure data storage techniques include controlled access, passwords, and encryptions.

Data Dashboards

Data dashboards help visually track, analyze, and display key performance indicators. Indicators are measurable information collected to track and compare rates or trends. Within healthcare organizations, data dashboards are used to track outcomes and trends related to patient health and organizational activities, boost patient satisfaction, improve quality of care, and enhance population health. Data dashboards can be integrated into electronic health records (EHRs) or kept in Microsoft Excel files, for example.

Rural community health programs can also use data dashboards to:

  • Monitor community health data
  • Identify populations of interest for interventions and programs
  • Identify best practices
  • Adjust program activities
  • Influence decision-making
  • Ensure patients maintain regularly scheduled appointments
  • Sync care-related information, such as lab results, EHRs, and billing information.

Lessons Learned from the Cohort Analysis of Rural Health Programs Data Dashboards describes how Federal Office of Rural Health Policy grantees have used data dashboards to capture key healthcare measures and track patient outcomes and trends. A webinar overview of the study findings is also available. The Health Resources and Services Administration provides several other examples of interactive data dashboards.

Implementation Considerations

A data management plan describes how a program will use and manage data, including how data will be stored and secured. A data security breach could damage the program's quality and violate program participants' rights. For example, information collected in substance use disorder program evaluations regarding mental health is particularly personal and sensitive. The program evaluator is responsible for ensuring that all data collected are protected.

Resources to Learn More

Put Data to Use
Offers instructions and resources to assist rural health stakeholders when working with population health data analytics.
Organization(s): National Rural Health Resource Center

Using Data in Public Health Delivery
Discusses the importance of evaluating and using evidence-based interventions based on data when developing public health programs. Offers examples of evidence-based programs and programs without evaluation.
Organization(s): Unite for Sight

Negotiating the IRB Process
Describes the unique challenges to IRB process in a rural community setting and the strategies found to effectively navigate the process.
Organization(s): Rural PREP
Date: 7/2019

The Three Types of IRB Review
Defines the three types of IRB reviews: exempt, expedited, and full.
Organization(s): Lafayette College