State-specific data give extra ammunition

You know you need data to plan new programs, justify existing services, apply for grants, and raise awareness of women’s health needs. You even have lots of books, lists, World Wide Web page addresses, and stacks of paper with data.

With all of this data available, you have only two questions: What does it mean, and how do I use it?

As with any information, you have to know how it was obtained and when it is appropriate to apply to your situation, say the experts.

Collection methods vary in different regions

The difficulty with data specific to women is that it isn’t readily available in many databases and it isn’t always collected in the same manner from state to state or from region to region, says Martha Romans, executive director of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health in Washington DC.

"National databases give you an overview of women’s health on a national level, but they don’t tell you how the health of women in your state compares to the health of women in other states," Romans explains. "Many national statistics also don’t break morbidity or mortality in gender-specific results."

A new publication, State Profiles on Women’s Health, by the Jacobs Institute does compare women’s health status from state to state. (See resource box, p. 144, for ordering information.) The institute used national statistics from organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, and the U.S. Census Bureau. The institute broke the information into state specific sections, explains Romans.

"We show which states rank highest and lowest in categories such as STDs and other illnesses as well as risk factors such as smoking or obesity," she adds.

This information will give people a starting point for discussing women’s health for a variety of reasons, adds Romans.

Use data to lobby for funding

The best use of statewide data is for lobbying efforts as women’s health providers strive to affect legislature and government funding of programs that impact the health of women in their state, says Judith B. Collins RN, MS WHNP, director of MCV Women’s HealthCare in Richmond, VA.

Being able to show that programs are needed because the women in your state have a higher incidence of breast cancer than in states with similar demographics, or that a higher percentage of the women in your state have a higher percentage of smokers, gives you some leverage when trying to influence legislative actions that fund health programs, she explains.

The same statistics can be used to help women’s centers identify a need for outreach programs or new services, adds Collins.

"We used similar data when setting up our program," she explains. "This type of information was used as a guideline to help us start identifying needs. We wanted information on demographics as well as women’s psychosocial and health status."

Bonnie Flood Chez, RNC, MSN, director of the women’s center at University Community Hospital in Tampa, FL, says, "I usually start with local or regional information when setting up a new program or service, then use statewide data to see how our region’s needs might differ from the entire state."

City or county planning departments or even local universities are a good source for local information. Chambers of commerce and realtor organizations can provide data on new homes, numbers of people moving to the area, as well as demographics of newcomers. A look at statewide information gives her organization a chance to benchmark the program and evaluate the impact on women in her community, adds Flood Chez.

Data demonstrate needs

In addition to enhancing lobbying efforts and identifying a need for outreach programs, statewide data can be used to support grant proposals, says Romans. Any grant proposal is more effective when quantitative data pulled from reputable sources are used to demonstrate the need for a new service.

Perhaps the best use of women’s health data if your woman’s center is a part of a hospital or larger health care system is to share the information with administrators and financial managers who may not understand the need for a women’s service, says Collins.

"We often need to reassure administrators that a women-specific service is justified and that there is an opportunity to affect women’s health," she says.