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National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR)

The “Natural Structure” of Health Statistics
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The “natural structure” of health statistics flows from its institutions—that is to say from the shared expectations that organize the enterprise.

Key Features of the “Natural Structures’ of Health Statistics
Health statistics are the result of large organized efforts.  A good approach to finding them takes advantage of common features to build a search strategy.

This page outlines some of the key features and the following pages help you to consider how to use each of these in your search.
  • Agencies—take corporate responsibility for collecting compiling and reporting health statistics. Each one has a particular scope and focus and you can use that focus to target your search. 
  • Studies— Agencies that produces health statistics divide their work into projects or studies. By understanding the purpose and scope of a study you can target your search to a particular set of materials.
  • Reference Dates— Each data collection pertains to activity in a specific time period.  Searches usually need to focus on material that is date relevant.
  • Variables—Each table, report and file has information about particular variables.  Searches focus on those that are needed to answer a question or conduct an analysis. 
  • Measures—are the questions and items that actually collect information about variables. To construct a series or compare results, researchers need specific information about how the measures were built so that they can assess comparability.
  • Reports—are the most common form in which statistics are issued. Frequently these consist of a body of tables that have the specific information.
  • Tables—present the results of an analysis of the data.  If the table shell [its rows and columns] was prepared for a different purpose than the searcher has, the information in the table may have to be transformed to answer the question posed.
  • Files—frequently contain so-called micro data—the individual observations collected during the study. While these offer greater flexibility, they usually can only be used with by specialized statistical analysis computer program.
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