Building Capacity to Leverage Reports.

Author:Booth, Darryl
Position:BUILDING CAPACITY

A sure measure of software satisfaction is getting out more than you put in. The MyFitnessPal app on my phone is great. I tap in my meals, snacks, and workouts. It's a small chore. Maybe I should invest those slivers of time elsewhere? But I don't. I keep inputting those meals because I get predictions and motivation when I look at the positive trends.

Data entry in your health department's data system is sometimes viewed by inspectors and managers as a chore, time that could be spent educating operators or clearing their inboxes. Some might say, "I could do inspections faster if I didn't have to compile the report on my tablet." Yet, if your data system actually gave back--through operational, insightful, and motivational reports--its real and perceived value can skyrocket.

A report is any data system output, whether it appears on paper or on a screen (e.g., a manager's dashboard or hit list). Form letters are reports, too. Reports, automation, security, and convenience are our rewards for using software. They should magnify our efforts and instruct our actions.

Health department leaders are frustrated by a lack of reports, commenting, "If I could only get what I need out of it!" Intuitively, we know we've dutifully recorded permitted facilities, inspections, violations, complaints, time tracking, etc. We know we should be able to organize and analyze those data. So let's tackle that.

Environmental health data systems approach reports in just a few different ways:

* native/built-in,

* ad hoc, and

* custom.

The reporting tools above were either built by the system's designer or external/integrated. Each category exists for good reason but are distinctly different (Table 1).

Native/Built-In

A catalog of native/built-in reports and screens are usually well tuned to any health department's needs. These are reports that get shown during a product demonstration and on a vendor's website. They usually run quickly and have great design.

These reports can sometimes be cloned and improved for your own needs but not always. A user with basic computer skills should be very effective in this arena.

Native/built-in reports are explicitly tied to that one data system or vendor. That's why you can't preserve your favorite reports when you migrate to a new system.

Ad Hoc Reports

You won't know all the reports you will need. A manager tearing into your cubicle and asking for a list of tattoo parlors permitted last year that had one specific violation is a...

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