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Q: Why don’t different data sources match?

Topics: Data Collection, Methodology

A: There are multiple approaches to collecting data and data are often collected for different purposes. As a result, it is important to understand the methodology behind each dataset and its intended use in order to make valid comparisons. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics collects data from employment surveys; the data count jobs, not workers, and they count employed, not self-employed positions. Professional association masterfiles (eg, AMA, ADA) are based on membership surveys and other sources, and data may not accurately account for professionals that are licensed and practicing in more than one state. State licensure data are self-reported through license applications and renewals, and hinge on the licensees accuracy and timeliness. The National Provider and Plan Enumeration System (NPPES) is a registry of providers that submit Medicare and Medicaid claims; this is an administrative database where the billing address of the provider may not match the provider’s practice location. Health professionals are mobile, some more than others, and change jobs and locations; these moves may not be reflected accurately or in a timely manner.

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Q: How reliable are different sources of physician supply data?

Topics: Data Collection, Workforce Supply

A: An article by DesRoches et al (2015) compared the National Provider and Plan Enumeration System (NPPES), the American Medical Association Masterfile, and the SK&A physician file to evaluate data accuracy. The authors performed this analysis in the context of using the selected datasets for sampling frameworks and counting physicians in a given area. The authors found that while none of the files were perfect, the NPPES contained broader coverage and NPPES and SK&A data had reasonably accurate and current address information. The AMA Masterfile had lower rates of correct address information.

State licensure data are another matter. Some state medical boards require only basic information, including a mailing address for licensing correspondence. Some states collect more robust data through licensure, including multiple practice addresses, and demographic, education, and practice characteristics. Some states conduct regular surveys. States may or may not systematically verify the licensure or survey data.

Different data sources have different limitations. Before using any dataset as a sampling frame or for research, it is essential to understand the data’s purpose and how they are collected, verified, and updated.

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Q: What states have implemented the MDS?

Topics: Data Collection, Minimum Data Set (MDS)

A: Many states are already collecting health workforce data, with a customized MDS in place to collect any additional data they need for health workforce planning. Some examples of states that are already collecting an MDS include North Carolina, Virginia, New York, Indiana, and Minnesota.

For more information on which states are collecting data, visit our State Health Workforce Data Collection Inventory, or contact HWTAC.

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Q: What are some different ways to collect health workforce data?

Topics: Data Collection

A: There are generally 4 methods to collect health workforce data:

1. Licensure Process. Data are collected as part of the licensure process when health professionals apply for their initial license and when they renew, capturing 100% of the workforce. This is one of the most efficient and cost-effective methods to collect data. Some questions on the licensure forms may be mandatory, while others are optional. The organizational structure of the licensing boards will present different opportunities and barriers to data collection. Examples: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia

2. Surveys. Data are collected through surveys, either in conjunction with the licensure process or as a separate effort. This method requires more staff time and money. Response rates may vary, but this is a good option if health workforce questions cannot be included directly on the licensure forms. Examples: New York, Wisconsin

3. Continuous Monitoring.
Data collection begins with a list of all licensees in one or more professions. From there, states track individuals through surveys, news clipping services, and other methods to determine practice status, practice setting, and other characteristics. This method can be costly, but it may provide more up-to-date information. Examples: Iowa, Nebraska

4. Secondary Data Sources. Secondary data sources can also be used to enumerate the workforce in a specific state. These data sources include the National Provider Identification (NPI) file, the American Medical Association (AMA) Physician Masterfile, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, as well as state professional associations. Additionally, all-payer claims databases can be used to enumerate the health workforce in select states, but there are significant limitations.

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