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Finding Public Health Data and Statistics

This guide was created to help support public health students find public health and health related data and statistics. If you have any questions about this guide, please contact ayang3@scu.edu

About This Guide

This guide provides links to sources of data and statistics collected and provided by numerous organizations and agencies.  You can find potential sources of data and statistics by topic area.  Health data and statistics can be difficult to find. Some of the things that make this so challenging are:

  • Health data collection is decentralized, and carried out by many different government, non-governmental and private agencies and organizations.  This will include organizations working at the national, state and local levels.  Data quality, collection methodology and accessibility will vary considerably.
  • Data collection and dissemination takes time and resources.  There is often a lag time between collection and availability, and thus real-time data can be difficult to come by.
  • Collection of health data in the United States is a fairly recent phenomenon.  Thus, finding reliable data prior to 1956, when the National Health Survey was established, will take time and may involve consulting primary resources.  You can also search the scholarly literature to find any studies that may have already done this ground work for you.

Data vs. Statistics

"Data" and "Statistics" are two words that we tend to use interchangeably and yet they refer to two very different things. 

Statistics can take the form of percentages or other quick facts presented in an article. They may also be presented in charts, tables, or graphs. Statistics are already analyzed--they are intended to tell you how much or how many of something there is. If you are looking for a quick number on something, you're looking for statistics.

covid 19 vaccination dashboard

From: California Department of Public Health, California Immunization Registry

Data are the raw materials from which statistics are made. They can take the form of datasets or machine readable files for statistical or textual analysis programs. If you're looking to understand why or how something is happening (and you want to do this research yourself, not read what someone else has written), you're looking for data. 

excel spread sheet table

From: Public Health Department, Open Data

Types of Health Data

Health data are gathered from a number of different types of sources. The source, collection methodology, purpose of collection, and limitations should be considered when evaluating and using data and statistics. 

Population surveys

Population or household surveys are a main source of health data. One advantage is that they are not limited to users of health services as are some of the other types of sources listed below. See the box below for the most important household surveys in the United States. 

Surveys of providers

Surveys of physicians, hospitals and nursing homes can be an important source of information on medical transactions and patients.

Vital statistics

These are drawn from the records of births, deaths, marriages and divorces and can facilitate detailed analyses of particular conditions, given that cause of death and circumstances of birth are also recorded.

Registers of diseases

These show the incidence, prevalence and outcomes of diseases like cancer and HIV/AIDS.

Administrative records

Examples include those records compiled during a hospital stay or at outpatient clinics or physician’s offices.