Always Something New: Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care

November 10, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Posted in NAHSL Annual Meeting 2014, Professional Development | 1 Comment

One thing I love about the NAHSL Conference is that I always learn something new.  Even though I have been a health sciences librarian for almost twenty years, the excellently chosen NAHSL speakers always have something fresh to present.  Thus the conference truly serves as a continuing education experience.

The one resource that I was most surprised to learn about this year was the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care (www.dartmouthatlas.org).  This website was highlighted in the plenary talk by Carrie Colla.  It is a data repository complied by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice that Dr. Colla used as the basis for her presentation.  It has been around for more than 20 years but it was a resource that I was not familiar with.

The Dartmouth Atlas analyzes Medicare data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services.  The project analyzes health care expenditures, delivery, utilization, and outcomes.  The data can be broken down by region and local level, even to the level of individual hospitals.  The data is analyzed using a population-based methodology called small area analysis.  This method focuses on the experience of a population living in a defined geographical area or a group of patients using the same hospital.

At the level of the individual hospital the atlas uses Medicare data to create a hospital profile based on the per patient spending in the patient’s last two years of life.  This is broken down by inpatient, outpatient, long-term, home health, and hospice care.  The data is used to create an index called the Hospital Care Intensity Index.  This index can be used to calculate the hospital’s utilization ratios in comparison to the national average.

In addition to the Medicare data, additional data from commercial medical claims is available from the states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.  In these states the state legislatures require routine reporting of medical claims from commercial insurance plans. All three states offer these data, along with Medicaid claims, for research and public reporting.

This website is freely available.  It includes interactive tools to allow users to use the data to make their own comparisons.  In addition the website includes the reports that have been generated as a result of their data analysis.

If you are not familiar with this website, be sure to take a look.  Also for those of you in states that do not require the public reporting of commercial insurance claims, urge your legislatures to pass laws requiring that this data be made available so that even more information can be added to this valuable resource.

Submitted by Robin Devin, PhD
Health Sciences Librarian, University of Rhode Island Library

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  1. Thanks Robin… great information. I somehow missed part of that talk during the conference. I believe I was late due to “Anchors Aweigh” practice and raffle tickets! So glad you were able to fill me so concisely on the missing pieces. I just visited the Dartmouth Atlas site.


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