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In an effort to extend population health initiatives in rural areas in Pennsylvania, and to provide rural health care providers and community-based organizations with data and tools, the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (PORH) has contracted with the Health Communities Institute (HCI) for ten, largely rural, counties in Pennsylvania.

Formed in 2008 by the University of California at Berkeley and the Healthy Cities Initiative, and now part of Midas+ (a Xerox company), HCI continuously accesses and analyzes multiple federal, state, and local data sources to identify dynamic community health problems and priorities and to determine effective courses of action to improve or sustain health status.

HCI uses web-based platforms that include community dashboards, disparities dashboards, and demographic dashboards—each with related data sets. The community dashboards have more than 100 key health determinant indicators, GIS mapping and other data visualization tools, and data trends. The disparities dashboards examine inequities by age, gender, and race. Demographic dashboards support the understanding of health needs and the patterns and pathways of disease and health in each specific community.

Other HCI features include data mining tools, including the SocioNeeds Index—a composite of socioeconomic indicators correlated with poor health outcomes—and Data Scoring Reports, which examine and score many different views of data to identify intervention opportunities. Through Promising Practices, users can explore a library of more than 2,100 best practice programs and policies to identify evidence-based practices and innovative ideas for creating rapid change. Unlimited Trackers provide tools for setting goals and measuring performance compared to other standards.

A resource library provides a database of local resources available, including grants and funding opportunities. HCI’s Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) Guide is an interactive online tool that walks non-profit hospitals through the steps and relevant content within their platform to help achieve regulatory compliance around needs assessments. The CHNA Guide helps health planners in hospitals, health departments, and community collaborative identify and assess the at-risk populations they serve.

“Through the portal on the PORH website, health care providers and others in ten rural counties can easily access information to address health issues in the populations they serve,” said Larry Baronner, rural health systems manager and deputy director at PORH. “We look forward to expanding the counties engaged in the project in the next year”

The PORH HCI portal can be found at To learn more about HCI, visit