Raising awareness of health status within Brantford & Brant County, Ontario

Using mapping software to improve understanding and awareness of health status within Brantford & Brant County, Ontario.

The Brant Health Atlas is an interactive mapping tool that provides information on the health of residents in the City of Brantford and the County of Brant in Ontario, Canada. Information is available on socio-demographic characteristics and a variety of key health indicators by age, sex and neighbourhood. These health indicators are aligned with core indicators developed by the Association of Public Health Epidemiologists in Ontario (APHEO). The tool allows users to view this information on a map, in tables, or graphs. We spoke to Adam Stevens, epidemiologist at the Brant County Health Unit (www.bchu.org), about the mapping tool and the benefits they have seen from using InstantAtlas.

Why were you looking for a mapping software solution?

We already had an indicators project and were producing paper and electronic (PDF) reports. We were also regularly updating key health statistics on the organizational intranet site to make sure our staff had access to most up-to-date data. However, we wanted to provide information in a more dynamic way that would allow users to find information quickly and which we could keep up to date easily. We started with 17 sociodemographic indicators, ten for chronic health problems and behaviours, six for chronic disease hospitalisation and nine for injuries (ER visits and hospitalisations), and this list is growing.

Socio demographic profile - Statistics on socio-demographic characteristics of the Brant population. Data is presented at the neighbourhood and census tract levels.

How did you find out about InstantAtlas?

We learned about InstantAtlas from Public Health Ontario, which used InstantAtlas to create an interactive health data reporting platform. We decided to create a similar reporting platform with maps that anyone could access and statistics that could be presented at a lower level of geography, such as the neighbourhood level.

Who are the users and have you had any feedback?

Anyone can access the mapping tool and our aim is for anyone with a vested interest in data at neighbourhood level to use it. We have been promoting the tool across the organization through team meetings, ‘lunch and learn’ and knowledge exchange events. Currently, our staff is the main users; however, we are planning to inform community stakeholders about the Brant Health Atlas and encourage them to use it.

Harmony Square, Brantford. Image courtesy of Carol Rawlings - bit.ly/c-rawlings

The reaction has been encouraging although we found that even though the maps are interactive and easy-to-access, some users still need support. A quiz was used to challenge staff to find specific information by exploring the website and help them learn at the same time.

Other feedback from users indicated that there was confusion when switching between datasets using different boundary files, especially when comparing data based on the Census Tract boundaries and the neighbourhood boundaries. We addressed this issue by adding a resource with a picture overlaying the borders of the two. Also, there were challenges with the hyperlinks clicked accidentally in the tables and indicator drop-down list, which we subsequently removed. Outside of the software itself, there is a lot of scrolling required to view the page content, which is constrained by our website design. Furthermore, users echoed our concerns around the reliability of some of the sociodemographic data following the discontinuation of the long-form Census in 2011.

How will you be developing the interactive maps?

We will continue to expand the number of datasets and health indicators. Soon we will be releasing indicators on reproductive health and child health, as well as incidence of infectious diseases. Next we need to solidify our process for keeping the information up-to-date, acknowledging that data is released at different times for different datasets. Further development of the maps will require an environmental and technological scan somewhere down the road, to take advantage of new and unrealized features.

What have been the benefits of using InstantAtlas to create the mapping tool?

  • Our goal is to increase understanding and awareness of health status and the mapping tool is helping us to do this
  • The tool allows users to make comparisons between areas quickly and in way that can be easily understood
  • InstantAtlas has helped us present data in a number of different formats which is very helpful
  • Being able to interact with the data is very important and it is improving knowledge exchange within Brant County
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