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.
Rural community health programs may use data to:
Understand the health and needs of the community (see Module 1, Conduct a Needs Assessment)
Determine appropriate interventions and develop programs to improve health
Identify populations of interest for program activities and interventions
Determine barriers to care and improve quality of care
Monitor trends over time
Evaluate program impact
Share progress with staff, funders, and the community
Make changes to existing programs and practices
Influence public policy
Data management refers to the process of collecting, recording, and storing data in a cost-effective, secure,
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.
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.
Rural programs can leverage tools to support different data management activities, including:
Data collection –Establishing processes and tools to support consistent data
across different program sites and staff. Examples include checklists, written instructions, protocols, and
Data cleaning –Implementing tools and processes to find and correct data errors.
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 both onsite
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.
Rural community health programs should use data management tools that align with program needs. Key features of
data management tools include data analysis capability, back-up generation capacity to promote security, and
global work facilitation or cloud-based functionality for remote staff.
Data dashboards are a data management tool that 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.
Care coordination and community health worker (CHW) programs use data dashboards to identify potential patients
by analyzing health care utilization trends, such as number of emergency department visits, hospital
readmissions, or ambulance calls. Data dashboards can also include tracking functions to ensure patients
maintain regularly scheduled appointments. For example, patients with diabetes should see their healthcare
provider every three months to monitor A1Cs. In addition, some data dashboards can connect other care-related
information, such as lab results, EHRs, and billing information.
Rural community health programs can utilize data dashboards to:
- Track program progress, program outcomes, and workflow analyses
- Monitor community health data
- Identify populations of interest for interventions and programs
- Identify best practices
- Adjust program activities
- Influence decision-making
The Health Resources and Services Administration provides several examples of interactive data dashboards.
A data management plan describes how a program will use and manage data. The data management plan should
describe the data that will be collected and how the data will be stored and secured. Data security —
keeping data safe from loss or misuse — is an important component of data management. A breach of data
security could damage the quality of the program 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.
Other implementation considerations in the early stages of data dashboard development include:
- Available time and resources
- Users and user needs (within and outside of the program/organization)
- Data sharing between external and internal stakeholders
Resources to Learn More
Put Data to Use
The National Rural Health Resource Center developed a web-based tool for rural health stakeholders to
demonstrate how to work with datasets and interact with dashboards.
Organization(s): National Rural Health Resource Center
Data in Public Health Delivery
This website describes the many ways data can be utilized in public health.
Organization(s): Unite for Sight