In this episode Karen Hall, the Program Manager for Population Health Collaborative, talks about how she uses healthcare data to improve the health of Western New York. Listen to the episode to learn how Karen analyses publicly available data to create plans with community partners with an emphasis on Social Determinants of Health. Don’t forget to stick around for the end where she provides some nontraditional tips for growing your network.
(funky music) - This is Buffalo State Data Talk, the podcast where we introduce
you to how data is used and explore careers that involve data. - Hello, and welcome
back to another episode
of Buffalo State Data Talk. I'm your host, Heather Campbell, and thank you for joining
us for episode 19. Today, we'll be talking to Karen Hall, the program director of
Population Health Collaborative,
a regional health collaborative, whose mission is to
improve population health in Western New York, by connecting diverse groups and aligning resources and expertise.
Welcome to the show, Karen. - Hi Heather, thank you for having me. I'm very excited to be here. - Excellent, so could you start us off by telling us a little bit
about Population Health Collaborative and what you do for the company? - Sure, so Population
Health Collaborative, so I like to start off by telling people that we are a small public
and population health agency.
So we work with different
organizations that work in the health and social sectors, but we also work with those nontraditional
health organizations, such as school districts and
law enforcement and work sites,
and really any entity that has an interest in improving public health
and population health. So under what's called a
collective impact model, there is something
called a backbone agency. And so I like to describe
a backbone agency
as like a conductor in an orchestra. So you have all of these different instruments being played and you've got groups of instruments and then it all works
together to perform this
beautiful piece of music. And so that's kind of what
a backbone agency does. It works with... It's the behind the scenes, works with all the different organizations
to keep things moving
forward and to manage and facilitate and coordinate all of the different
efforts that are happening for some type of large
health and or social issue that's going on in the community.
- Excellent, and what
do you specifically do for the company? - So I am the program director, so we primarily work with grants and that would be state
grants, federal grants.
Sometimes we get grants from foundations. And so I am for the most part, the PI, the primary investigator
for any of these grants and the grants all, for the most part, have to do with chronic
that's kind of our niche. So I manage all of the grants
and I create the work plans and I create the implementation models and I do the evaluation and all of the reporting for the grant.
- So what does a typical
day or a typical week look like for you, for
putting in all those grants and managing all that? - So there really is no typical day because I do something
different every single day.
I'm constantly switching hats from grant administrator
to data collector, to data analyzer, to a strategic planner, to being a broker, if you will, bringing two different
for a program. So it's different every day. And so then within all
of those different things that I do here, it's different because
there's different issues.
I can switch from chronic diseases in terms
of like obesity prevention to maternal and child health, to mental health and substance use issues to healthcare reform, to
anything that involves health,
which is a very, very large umbrella. So it truly is different every day. So it keeps me on my toes. - That's a wide variety of things. So I could definitely understand
not having a typical day.
How is your time split
between working with a team and working independently? - So internally first, we have a team. So I'm the program
director and I also have... Maybe at any given time,
one, two, three or four different
coordinators that help me implement some of the work
plan for any grant that we get, any kind of initiative
or work that we're doing. We work very, very well together. We work collaboratively
internally, and then externally,
our main constituents
are the organizations that are doing the work
with the community. So we work to serve the organizations so that they can serve
their populations better. So we have to work collaboratively.
As the name suggests,
Population Health Collaborative, collaborative is just
built into our mission, our vision, our values,
our goals, objectives, everything that we do. We're not subject matter
experts in anything.
I'm not a subject matter
expert in mental health, in maternal and child health, in Lyme disease, in whatever
else that happens to come up. So we need our partners to give
us that particular expertise and tell us the intricacies
of how health issues
and certain diseases are happening and what's
happening within the communities and so we go in there as the
capacity builder for that. - And so I know that you
do spend a lot of time working collaboratively,
but how much of your time,
like 50, 70, 80? - Yeah, that's a very good question. It's definitely not 50/50. I would say it's more than that. Maybe a 60/40,
or a 70/30 with collaborative
being the heavier part. Independently, there are times
when I am alone in my office thinking, working, planning,
writing up strategic plans, analyzing and you need quiet for that. You need quiet time to like
let your brain do its work
and you need a lot of brain
power and not distractions. So there are times where I am
hunkered down in my office, no distractions and working independently and trying to write up... Analyze and write up evaluation results
and writing up reports, let's say. - So you mentioned before that you do data collection and data analysis. What kind of data are you working with? - So primarily we will work with the data
that is readily available for anyone. So some of the data sets
are available are available through the Centers for
Disease Control website and the National Institutes
of Health website. We also, in the city of Buffalo,
there is some data sites that we use. There's also the New York State Prevention
Agenda data website that we use. Now a lot of times the problem
with this particular data is that it's outdated.
So we also work with Healthy Link, which is a local repository
for clinic and healthcare data. And so if you've ever been
to a doctor's office before and you sign a form that allows your data to be shared at an aggregate
level, a de-identified data.
They have the data from
health insurance companies and from the larger healthcare systems. So they are a very close
partner with us where we can get some more granular, real time data. We also collect data ourselves.
We work with data that's
already made for us and we work with our own
data that we collect. It just depends on the project
that we're doing really. - And so once you have
that data, or for example, the publicly available data,
what do you do with it?
- So for the most part... When we work with data that's available, and we're looking at a broad scale, we try to get it down
as granular as we can, because we want to
translate data into action.
It's great to have a piece of paper that says 60% of this population is obese. Well, great, then what
are we gonna do about it? So that really informs us
at who we want to work with and what we want to do.
And so are we getting the right population with the right effort and
the data will tell us that. And depending on what an
organization is looking for, sometimes they're just looking
for us to analyze some data and give them the data
and then they will then in
turn, create their own programs, which is fine. Sometimes we act as a consultant and will provide some
evidence-based programming or evidence-based efforts, initiatives,
policies that we recommend that get done based on the data that is available. One thing that I do wanna note that is not available right now, that we're trying to work on
is what's called social
determinants of health data, which I'll talk a little
bit more about later, but to give you a little preview, social determinants of health
are those non-health factors that have a direct impact
on an individual's health.
And that is not being collected at the way that population health experts would like it to be collected. So that's kind of an
ongoing battle right now. We can't exactly solve
health related issues
without knowing what the root cause is. And so that's kind of where
we're at in terms of public and population health
right now regarding data. - It makes it very
difficult to solve problems if you don't know what's causing them.
So one of my last questions
about data here is how do you share the results? Once you collect the
data and you analyze it, what are you doing with those results? - We have probably 300 plus
in our network. So if we come across
something that is interesting, that our constituents need
to know, we share that. And we share that, we have an interactive website
through LiveWellWesternnewyork.org, and we share that information
with our larger network. We also will create reports for any of the state grants that we have, we have to write up reports,
that is a requirement.
- So what are the specific
softwares or technologies that you use when you're
analyzing your data? - So it depends, again, on what is being asked for us to do. In terms of the community
that can really just
be done through simple Google Analytics, Excel spreadsheets, and really what SurveyMonkey provides you. It can be that simple because that data is not being used for
any research purposes.
That is for internal folks
at the health department or the hospitals to look at and then make up their
programming based on that. If we are asked to do
something on a larger scale, Excel's pretty good at
providing different formulas
and doing some analytics for you, but we also use SPSS here
and we don't go anything beyond an SPSS so that's
what I'm familiar with, that's what I learned when I was in school and that's what I'm comfortable with
and so we use that data platform. - Excellent, so what is your
favorite part of your position? - I would have to say that
going back to what I said before that no two days are alike. I've learned so much about
different health issues
that I never thought of before. I mean, I've worked in corporate health. I worked for the American
Cancer Society for 14 years before I came here. And there's so much that
I don't know about health.
And since I've been here, the importance of social determinants has really, really blown
up and has surpassed good old fashioned
population health efforts of getting people to eat
right, exercise and not smoke.
And so, like, that's
kind of taken a secondary as to like getting to those root causes. And so discovering that and realizing that if we are looking at those social issues, that in turn will then make
people physically healthier.
- That sounds excellent and it sounds like you're really enjoying your
position so that's amazing. - I'm pretty lucky, yeah, I am. - So you also just brought up the topic of social
determinants of health.
So I wanted to chat
about that a little bit. So can you tell us what is social determinants of health and why is it important? - So social determinants in a nutshell
are those root causes that
keep people from being healthy or keep people from living
a solid quality of life, if you will. So those are things such as poverty, lack of education, lack of transportation,
lack of food access, lack of a community where they
feel that they can go outside and be active safely. So it's the community in which you live, and that has a direct impact
on someone's physical health
and of course, mental health. So back when I was in school in undergrad, which is 25 years ago, so
I'm dating myself right now, but we didn't know that that existed, or that was not considered
to be a public health issue
or even a population health issue. And I remember learning
about getting people to... Ways in how to get people to eat right, exercise and not smoke, not
drink and go see their doctor, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
And it seemed like it was
just very simple to do, to tell people what to do, but if you can't keep your lights on, and if you don't have a car, and if you have to take three bus routes
to get to a simple doctor's appointment, or even to just go for a five
minute blood draw somewhere, or if you're gonna run out of food and you can't feed your children, you are not thinking about
eating fruits and vegetables
and making sure that
you're getting 30 minutes of exercise every day. And then that is obviously
gonna have an effect on your mental and emotional health. So we've kind of flipped that now.
So if we look at those social determinants and we try to solve those social issues, which is extremely complex to do, which is why you have to implement a collective impact model,
where there are multiple agencies working for one common goal, you try
to solve those social issues. And by solving those social issues, you're going to, trickling
down to the individual level, help with their mental
and emotional issues,
which then in turn will help with those physical type issues. If you're looking at the makeup of someone's health and what goes into an individual's health, 40% of
that is social determinants.
That's the biggest piece
with 20% being healthcare like the actual like brick and mortar provider type healthcare. So you don't get healthy by
being in a doctor's office. It's everything else that surrounds that.
So shouldn't it make sense that in order to solve overall population health issues that we focus on those
social determinants first. And so that's where we're
making our efforts... We're putting our efforts into that now.
And in order to do that, we
need to have stronger data. We have all sorts of outcomes that tell us how overweight people are, or what is the rate of
cancer and what is the rate of people getting their mammograms,
or we have all of this data, but we don't know what's going into those who do not get their
screenings for a mammogram, or why is it that folks
are actually obese? What types of neighborhoods
do they live in?
Are they able to access
fresh fruits and vegetables? And if they do have access to that, do they know what to do with it? So we need data that shows us that and that's what we're working on now.
- So if our listeners are
interested in this topic, do you have any resources
that you could suggest that they could check out? - So the Centers for Disease Control, which is the CDC, if
you just Google CDC.gov,
that's a great resource that gives you anything and
everything health related and lots of public and
population health information. There's also the Institute
for Healthcare Improvement, IHI is what it's called,
and I believe it's IHI.org.
That is also another fantastic website that gives you anything and everything public population health, and a lot of social determinants of health information in there.
And from there, you can get
other resources as well, but those are the two big
ones that come to mind that is a great starting point. Another really good starting point is the Rural Health Network.
Don't let the name fool you, it's a lot about rural health
and the issues that happen with rural health, but it
gives a wonderful overview of public health, population
health and the SDOH issues. - Excellent, well I will link those
in the description of the episode. - Thanks. - So I wanna switch things
up just a little bit now and talk about your career path. So you have a master's in
and a doctorate of
education in health policy. So how did you end up working with data and end up where you are now? - So basically back in undergrad, when I got my undergrad in my...
I have a degree in biology
in community health. Back then, it was called community health. And that was just part
of the whole curriculum for the program in community health. Got introduced to data,
how important data is,
how data informs your work. So it's been an integral
part of my academic career since I started. Moving on into health administration, the data changed a little bit
because health administration
was a little bit more about operations and running an organization, if you will. And that takes data. You need to learn about budgets. You need to learn about
yeah, really budgets,
because without a budget,
you have no programming. So you need to learn how to manage budgets and what all goes into
keeping the lights on at any kind of organization. But we also, again, used data
a lot to inform programming
outside of that institution. When I moved on to work in health policy, data absolutely drives policy, policy doesn't get written
without the data to support it. So if you are looking to
introduce a new piece of policy
or update an outdated piece of policy, you need to have the data to show that. So you need to develop a
really good, strong case. And so if that is done
quantitatively or even qualitatively, then we need that in order
to implement or update
or enhance a policy to be current with the times that are matching now. - Do you have any tips on
how students can network and build their connections? I know that's always something
that's really important
for professional development is continuing to build your network of people. So, do you have any tips for that? - I would recommend
getting involved in clubs, organizations that you can join
and that is a great first step. When I was in undergrad, I think I belonged to the... There was a public Pennsylvania, I went to undergrad in Pennsylvania,
it was Pennsylvania Student
Public Health Association and I was part of that. And I also, when I would
come home on breaks, I reached out to our local hospital. Our local hospital had a
community health program,
and I offered up my volunteer services to just come in, shadow,
do whatever it was that they wanted me to do as a volunteer and they put me to work. So I spent a lot of time inputting data
as a 20 year old college student, just to get my foot in the door, just to see what it was like and I ended up getting
my first job from that. So I made that relationship.
So call local agencies, organizations, whatever it is that you
think you have an inkling of that you want to do and just learn more
about that organization. We take interns,
but I also take volunteers
and I also meet with students all the time to talk about
things that they can do. And I've found that 99%
of the professionals will gladly open their doors
to students and be like, come on in, what do you wanna know?
Hang out with me for a day or two, and we'll get this done. - I really love your advice. I think a lot of the time when
people think of networking, they think of going into a room
of people and shaking hands,
but networking can be as simple as talking to your peers in a club at your school and networking can be
volunteering for a company and meeting new people. I think those are excellent
ideas, I love that.
So before we let you go, is there anything else you'd
like our listeners to know that we didn't get a
chance to cover today? - I don't think so. I just wanna put my
email address out there
and that's Khall, K-H-A-L-L@PHCWNY.org. If anybody ever wants to just reach out and chat about anything,
please drop me an email. I'd be happy to meet with you. If you're local, we'll
grab coffee at one of our
millions of coffee
shops that we have here, cause we have a lot, or we'll set up a Zoom and we'll talk and I'm always open to
meeting some young folks and inspiring young minds.
- Excellent, and we'll also put your email in the description of the episode. - Awesome. - So Karen, thank you so
much for joining us today. - Thank you, this was a lot of fun.
Thank you for having me. - And to all of our listeners,
if you haven't already, check out all of our previous podcast. They're available wherever
you listen to podcasts. And for more information
about starting your career
as a data scientist or a data analyst, go to dataanalytics.Buffalostate.edu, and don't forget to subscribe so that you get a notification each time we release a new episode
of Buffalo State Data Talk.
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