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Online Tool Helps Iowa Communities Assess Health

The Iowa Healthiest State Initiative worked with public and private entities to develop a comprehensive assessment that businesses, government agencies, communities and schools can use to get healthier.

Iowa schools, businesses and communities are now a point and click away from a comprehensive health assessment and feedback on how to improve their overall well-being.

The Iowa Healthiest State Initiative’s new online assessment tool looks at typical health factors such as exercise and nutrition, but it also incorporates elements such as emotional health, dental health, and tobacco and substance abuse. Once the assessment is complete, end users receive automated results and are pointed toward resources to help implement health changes.

It took about 18 months to develop the tool, according to Jami Haberl, executive director of the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, which spearheaded the project. She told Government Technology that the organization worked with businesses, the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Department of Education and Iowa League of Cities to ensure the assessment questions and information were user-friendly, thorough and accurate.

A press release from Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s office noted that Tim Kintner, executive vice president of Bankers Trust, and committee members from various businesses, schools and state agencies played a significant role in the assessment’s maturation.

“We use a lot of evidence-based research to identify what makes a workplace, school or a community healthy,” Haberl said. “Based on that, we were able to come up with questions and options for them in terms of how they’re doing in certain areas. It’s really an opportunity for people to step back and maybe look at other areas that they didn’t think about that might tie into health and well-being.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds called the tool a “great resource” for those who want to be healthier and share the goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation, according to a statement. Haberl concurred, adding that the biggest benefit the assessment provides are the results and resources to make changes to better a community’s individual health standing.

The online assessment cost approximately $50,000 to build, which was paid for through two private-sector sponsors – Holmes Murphy and Spinutech. The latter company is a Web design firm and handled most of the IT work on the program. Public-sector representatives worked on the project in an advisory role to make sure the assessment contained valid information and tied together with their own education and health goals.

A pilot program took a few months, which revealed a couple of “look and feel” issues that were addressed. Basic things, such as making sure the assessment could accept email addresses with unusual characters in them and the location of additional information on the site, were identified as problematic by testers. Both were addressed to make sure the experience was easy for end users.

Pilot sites involved with the project consisted of a mix of public and private entities. Included were Red Oak Senior High School, Marshalltown High School, Southview Middle School, Indianola Middle School, Shell Rock Elementary, Hubbard-Radcliffe Elementary, RDG, CDS Global, ACT, Rockwell Collins, Van Meter Industrial, Wesley Life, the Rassmussen Group, Houghton State Bank and the Iowa League of Cities.

“We really wanted to make it a simple tool for people to use,” Haberl said. “Whether you’re coming from a small or large business, we want you to take advantage of the tool. So that feedback was very important, coming from people on the ground that deal with these things on a day-to-day basis.”

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.