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To determine whether the services they provide are meeting population needs, local health departments (LHDs) use a variety of formal and informal assessments, including community health assessments and communitywide health-improvement plans. Despite these efforts, the services do not always meet the needs, for a variety of reasons, including competing funding priorities, political mandates, and natural shifts in population makeup and health concerns. Geographic information system (GIS) mapping software provides a promising tool to enhance priority-setting and resource allocation for LHDs by displaying complex geospatial information in an integrated and visual way, enabling staff to compare the geographic distribution of population health in a community (i.e., where services are needed) with the geographic distribution of LHD programs and expenditures (i.e., where services are provided). Using such an approach, LHDs can identify gaps between program services and community health needs. This report presents findings from interviews with 65 staff at four LHDs and three case studies to test potential solutions for how maps can be used to address the gaps between public health needs and LHD services. It describes options for accessing easy-to-use, no-cost GIS data and tools and suggests ways in which LHDs can integrate new GIS approaches into their activities.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Overview of Findings from Interviews and Case Studies

  • Chapter Three

    Case Study: Locations of Primary and Specialty Healthcare Services in Palm Beach County, Florida

  • Chapter Four

    Case Study: Locating Chronic-Disease-Prevention Education Activities in Los Angeles County, California

  • Chapter Five

    Case Study: Locations of Individuals Who Use Emergency Department Services in Alameda County, California

  • Chapter Six


  • Appendix A

    Techniques and Resources for Mapping

  • Appendix B

    Data Sources

This work was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Quantum Foundation. The research was conducted in RAND Health, a unit of the RAND Corporation.

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