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Initial Exploration of Newly Implemented Public Health Policy Using Geographic Information Systems: The Case of a U.S. Silver Alert Program

JHHSA, Vol. 37 No. 3, (2014)

Context. Public health policies are designed for specific subsets of the population. Evidence that a policy is effectively designed should be based on whether it effectively addresses its mission. A critical factor is determining whether utilization patterns reflect the mission and the efficacy of public health policies, particularly during early stages of implementation. We assert that utilization patterns can be effectively assessed using geographic information systems (GIS).
Objective. This paper uses the Silver Alert program, a recently implemented public health policy, as a case for how and why GIS can be used to examine utilization patterns.
Design. GIS are employed to visualize and spatially analyze a new health policy – North Carolina’s Silver Alert policy. We use visualized data and spatial statistics to assess utilization patterns and mission adherence.
Results. Results show disproportionate utilization patterns of the Silver Alert policy. In particular, an outstanding number of Silver Alerts were used in Wake County and its surrounding counties, which are both the political and media center of North Carolina. Other counties, including populous counties, had few if any alerts.
Conclusion. Findings suggest that the North Carolina’s Silver Alert policy needs to be adjusted to more effectively address its mission. We identify several factors that need further examination prior to a statewide evaluation. From this case study, we propose ways future programs, particularly the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, might use GIS to examine utilization patterns as a means to better understand whether and in what ways the health care needs of the public are being met with such a policy.

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