Compile and Organize Information
Learn how to organize the information you collect and begin to identify what data are most relevant to your public health evaluation.
After you have collected as much of the needed information as possible about a site, the next step is to identify which information is most relevant to the PHA process and compile it in a meaningful way.
Often the first step in organizing the information collected is to develop a site summary table, which is particularly useful for large sites where much information needs to be organized, such as some Superfund sites and DOD or DOE sites that have numerous separate “areas of concern,” each with different possible exposure situations and environmental conditions.
Compiling data in such a manner helps you organize the information collected and determine what is most important for assessing exposures and possible health hazards. After developing the site summary table, you will be ready to evaluate sampling data and exposure pathways.
CDC; photographer: Amanda Mills
Tip: Be sure to document all sources with pertinent details as applicable, such as the author, date, title, and web address.
Confidentiality and Privacy Issues
Some of the data ATSDR collects during the PHA process (e.g., as part of health studies or health surveillance activities, from the public in their community health concerns) might be considered confidential or sensitive and may contain personally identifiable information (PII). Medical facilities and state health departments generally have strict requirements for handling confidential medical information.
Health assessors are not typically required to handle this type of information as part of the PHA process and would more likely be reviewing environmental and exposure data and aggregate health outcome data (e.g., from cancer registries). But when health assessors do need to analyze sensitive information necessary for answering public health questions, they must do so in a way that protects the confidentiality and identity of the people involved. Those with access to confidential information must comply with all applicable federal laws and regulations related to privacy. It is highly recommended that health assessors consult with ATSDR program leaders, privacy experts, and/or legal counsel before handling any data in which confidentiality may be an issue.
Health assessors can only use and share the PII and confidential information for approved purposes, and must ensure they do not disclose any sensitive information in written products and other communications (e.g., meetings, telephone calls) that could identify individual data subjects without consent.
PII is any information that can be used to establish individual identity, directly or indirectly (for example, a person’s name, address, phone number, or social security number).
- Biologic/medical data (e.g., medical records, individual health outcome information, written logs that document an individual’s medical condition).
- Names of homeowners identified on maps (e.g., location of residences or private wells linked with environmental sampling data).
- Graphical displays (e.g., GIS maps) that may identify locations where a person with a particular disease resides.
- Summaries of health information (e.g., informal door-to-door surveys conducted by community members) that might identify people with a particular health condition, especially if information is collected from a small geographic area.