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Benefits of Health IT

e-Health for Communities

e-Health: Your health, your community's health

Your health is influenced by a variety of factors, including family history, genes, and personal habits such as exercise, diet, and other lifestyle choices. The broader environment in which you live also affects your health. For example, air quality can affect whether you develop breathing problems, like asthma or lung disease. Whether you live in a community without sidewalks can affect how much you walk rather than drive a car.

Similarly, the health of an entire community is not simply the sum of the health of its residents. It reflects your community's environment, food systems, and other factors.

Beyond providing tools for individuals, the expansion in e-Health is causing growth in the use of information to understand and improve the health of our communities, which in turn helps us better understand and improve the health of individuals.

What the government is doing

As directed by Congress, the Federal government compiles data about communities, including such information as:

  • how many people have access to health care services
  • pollution levels
  • cost of health care services
  • cancer rates
  • most frequent causes of death

Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services launched an "open data initiative" to increase the availability of this information for the public, for researchers, and for innovators in the private sector. Visit health.data.gov for ways to learn more about your own community. You will also find links to other innovative health data projects both within and outside of government.

e-Health in communities: Other initiatives

The combination of initiatives like health.data.gov and the wider availability of powerful tools for understanding data has resulted in an explosion of innovation from researchers and the private sector. The two tools below offer good examples of the potential:

  • Asthmapolis is a private company developing GPS-enabled inhalers for people with asthma. When one of the inhalers is used, it sends information to a database that tracks usage by person and by location.

    This information can help individuals become more aware about locations that may be likely to trigger an asthma attack. But when combined with information from other inhaler users, the database may also identify air quality issues affecting whole communities. Asthmapolis also collaborates on projects with several public agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch.

These sites bring together local governments, health care providers, other local businesses, community-based organizations, and individuals to work together on local health issues.

Examples include Arizona Health Matters and Howard Health Counts(Howard County, MD).