Dr. Tabatha Offut-Powell wants health info to be available to everyone

State epidemiologist Dr. Tabatha Offut-Powell is being honored for her efforts in creating the new My Healthy Community data portal.

“An epidemiologist is someone who studies the distribution and the determinants of diseases in populations, and not just diseases but health states and events,” she said. “Then we analyze the data to make improvements to health overall.”

In a way, the data portal allows everyone to be their own epidemiologist by providing them with information to make the best decisions for their health.

“We see things differently because of [data],” Offut-Powell said. “It makes us ask ourselves, ‘Do we need to address that? What can we do differently?'”

She was named a Community Star, one from each of 44 states, by the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health. It recognizes those making a positive impact on rural health. The data portal was particularly challenging to build because many parts of Delaware are so rural.

The 42-year-old Offut-Powell is also the Division of Public Health’s Chief of Epidemiology, Health Data and Informatics.

“We are so proud of the work she does every day to improve the lives of Delawareans,” said DPH Director Karyl Rattay. “Not only does the My Healthy Community data portal contribute to rural health innovation, education, collaboration and communication, it also helps build capacity for rural data-driven program planning and decision making by rural health advocates.”

What is a data portal?

A data portal is a website that allows users to organize and look at multiple datasets. My Healthy Community contains a large amount of Delaware health-related data easily organized by geographic region.

Creating the portal had some challenges, in addition to simply collecting and organizing a gargantuan amount of data. For example, almost all data can be categorized as health-related in one way or another, so Offut-Powell had to decide which should be included. She also had to address privacy concerns that providing data in low population density areas brings up.

When she proposed the idea in 2014, she realized she and her colleagues had a long road ahead.

“It was like the tortoise and the hare,” she said. “We just kept going.”

The initial seed money for the portal came from an unexpected place – the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. That allowed Offut-Powell and her team to start with environmental data that pertains to health, like air and water quality.

“One of the areas that was exciting for me was being able to share the private well data for more rural areas and what are we identifying in water,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in your well, but it has an important message: definitely test your well water, look at it closely and look at treatment systems.”

More data was garnered from places like the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, hospitals and county surveys. The portal provides information on everything from population to suicide rates.

Information will be added as time passes, from existing sources and from new sources as they are found. Offut-Powell expects new information on the opioid epidemic to be added this month.

The My Healthy Community portal is at myhealthycommunity.dhss.delaware.gov.