An online survey is giving B.C. residents the chance to change their neighbourhoods to suit their health needs – if only enough of them would fill it out.
Vancouver Coastal Health partnered with Fraser Health and UBC to launch My Health My Community in June 2013.
Users fill out the survey by answering questions about their health/healthcare and lifestyles as well as their social, economic and physical environments. They identify their places of residence by municipality and neighbourhoods within it.
Despite the survey only taking around 10-15 minutes to fill out on average, completion rates are low. Of 40,000 adults VCH hoped for, only 15,000 people have completed the survey. The lowest response is from females aged 18 to 29 and males aged 18 to 39.
Quiz answers go beyond health care providers
“The information is to help not only our health care planners, but also our local government and community agencies in making sure that they provide the programs and services needed to help people lead healthier lives in their communities,” said Dr. Jat Sandhu, the project lead, regional director for public health surveillance at VCH and clinical professor at UBC.
Chris Quigley is a senior planer at TransLink. He said the company has known of the connection between transit locations and health for a few years.
“One of the strengths of the My Health My Community survey is that its longitudinal, so we can see how people’s health changes over time, and we can then match that to how the built environment of transport infrastructure and services changes over time as well,” he said. “It allows us to make those connections between if we were to put more service into an area, we can then track how health changes as a result.”
Quigley said students, an age bracket that typically uses transit more heavily than others, should know the survey can only benefit them.
“By providing this health information, they’re able to inform better decision making at TransLink,” he said. “That could have the effect of hopefully increasing transportation investments in services such as increased buses and rapid transit and other types of transportation as well.”
Neighbourhood and municipal classifications provide a fresh view
Sandhu said while other health surveys have been made available to the public before, My Health My Community is the first quiz tailored for individual municipalities and neighbourhoods within a city.
A major stumbling block is that most health data sources are classified by health boundaries that do not line up with local government and community boundaries, he said.
For example, the data VCH currently works with is separated into three areas: Vancouver, Richmond, and coastal. The coastal level includes everything from the North Shore to Whistler, as well as the Sunshine Coast and the Bella Bella Central Coast.
“It’s lumping in urban with rural, which is not helpful at all,” said Sandhu. “Even within the city of Vancouver, we know there’s tremendous variation from the east side to the west side, and yet we lump our health statistics together.”
Quigley said the individual community perspectives the new survey offers are key for TransLink. It enables them to tailor services in the most effective way possible for residents’ health by municipality and neighbourhood.
“We could identify certain parts of the region and say ‘look at this neighbourhood, it benefits from good walking and cycling infrastructure, it also has a healthy population compared to the regional average’,” he said. ”That for us is a good piece of evidence to say why we should be making the business case for investing in that type of infrastructure more broadly in the region.”
Students have the chance to represent themselves
Sandhu said typically gaps in health survey data are addressed by giving what results do exist a heavier statistical weight. This is so they represent the actual estimated proportions of a particular group within a surveyed area.
“You have one individual potentially speaking on behalf of 300 or 400 people,” he said.
For Sandhu, that is why My Health My Community is so important.
“We want to make sure…everyone has a voice in making sure when decisions are made around programs, services, community amenities that may be needed, it’s actually based around a representative view from each community.”
The survey is available here and is available until the end of June.