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Transforming Health
Data Through Innovation

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NORC is continuously exploring, designing, and implementing innovative research methods to harness the power of data in all its forms to improve health.

Caitlin Oppenheimer, SVP
Public Health

Collecting a growing variety of health data from large numbers of people poses a complex, ever-evolving challenge. NORC brings fresh perspectives and innovation to that challenge. Since 2005, NORC has conducted the National Immunization Survey (NIS), which is considered the gold standard for collecting data on immunization rates among young children and teens in the United States. The survey plays a critical role in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) efforts to combat childhood diseases. Ongoing surveillance of vaccinations is also vital to understanding the reasons for under-vaccination and its prevalence in different parts of the country.

As cell phones increasingly replace landlines, NIS’s random-digit dial survey design has faced declining response rates. To continue collecting high-quality data, we are taking a new, innovative approach. We are now working with state and local immunization registries to use data from their Immunization Information Systems (IIS), which consolidate immunization information from multiple providers into one source. We are currently testing the use of IIS as a supplement to the NIS sampling frame to increase the efficiency of data collection.

We are also enhancing the scope of data collection for the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), our survey of the social, psychological, and physical health of older adults. Researchers are gathering an expanded set of physical markers by asking members of both of NSHAP’s cohorts and their partners—to collect their own biomeasures, such as timing a walk using an accelerometer. These data will deepen our understanding of respondents’ health and how it relates to their social relationships. Innovations developed for NSHAP’s biomeasure collection are being applied to the collection of physical measures in the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, which we conduct for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

To estimate vision loss and eye disease across the country, the Vision and Eye Health Surveillance system defined and measured over 200 outcomes in 11 different data sources representing over 200 million patient-level records per year.

Those data sources included five national health surveys; Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance payment claims; and electronic health records collated from nearly all U.S. ophthalmology practices. We clean and organize the data and post them on an interactive website that offers free access to patients, policymakers, and public health practitioners. Behind the scenes, we are integrating all of these data in a state-of-science model to produce the first truly comprehensive set of prevalence estimates for visual impairment, blindness, and major eye conditions at the state and national levels.

We are also measuring the effectiveness of existing health care tools. For example, since August 2016, we have been evaluating screening tools that identify risk factors for falls among adults age 65 and older for the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Using AmeriSpeak, our nationally representative, probability-based panel, to collect data from this population, we asked participants to report the number of times they fell each month. We also determined the potential for a smaller subset of questions that could be used to predict falls in a clinical setting.