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Taking the Pulse of a Community's Health, Online

How's Your Health is a community-based approach to improving health and health care that has been gaining national attention. Developed with Commonwealth Fund and other foundation support by John Wasson, M.D., of Dartmouth Medical School and Regina Benjamin, M.D., of Alabama's Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, the program centers around an anonymous, free online survey that lets people assess their own health and receive information tailored to their particular needs. Individuals are encouraged to bring their health assessments with them on their next doctor's visit. This approach grew out of a simple idea—to find out what matters to patients and try to address their concerns. It is based on 20 years of research by a cooperative network of physicians, nurses, and researchers affiliated with Dartmouth Medical School showing that patient-centered care is both effective and efficient.

Clinical trials using this interactive technology have shown that it can improve patient outcomes, especially when it is reinforced by clinicians. What's more, the How's Your Health program shows promise for improving health needs of communities as a whole. For example, after 1,000 residents of Mobile, Alabama, completed the survey, it became clear that one of residents' top concerns was that there was nowhere to walk and get exercise. To address this, city planners have been putting in sidewalks. The survey, which is available in multiple languages, can be customized to address certain concerns in a given population. The survey has proven to be an affordable option for businesses that want to gauge and improve their workers' health. So far, it has been used by businesses in Long Beach, CA; Chicago; Milwaukee; Rochester; New Jersey; Virginia; and Hawaii. A Fund grant to the National Business Coalition on Health (NBCH) supported the development of an online toolkit to help business groups implement the How's Your Health program.

The toolkit, available to coalition members at the NBCH site, explains how the survey can be used in small or large workplaces as a tool to improve workers' health; offers models and customized questions; and provides advice on how to take action to address identified needs. Currently, the Fund is supporting a collaborative effort among five communities that are using the How's Your Health survey to assess their residents' needs and target appropriate health interventions. A report on this effort is forthcoming. You can take the survey at

July 2005

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