Despite having the costliest medical care delivery system in the world, Americans are not particularly healthy. Recent international comparisons show that life expectancy in the U.S. ranks 49th among all nations, and infant mortality rates are higher in the U.S. than in many far less affluent nations. While these statistics are alarming, the bigger problem is that we do not know how to reverse this trend. Our lack of knowledge is due in large part to significant inadequacies in the system for gathering, analyzing, and communicating health information about the population.
To inform the public health community and all other sectors that contribute to population health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation commissioned the IOM to examine three major topics that influence the health of the public—measurement, laws, and funding. In this, the first of three reports, the IOM reviews current approaches for measuring the health of individuals and communities and suggests changes in the processes, tools, and approaches used to gather information about health outcomes and their determinants. The IOM recommends developing an integrated and coordinated system in which all parties—including governmental and private sector partners at all levels—have access to timely and meaningful data to help foster individual and community awareness and action.