Health Needs Assessment

A health needs assessment (HNA) can be described as a systematic review of the health issues a population is facing which are aimed at deciding on the agreed priorities and appropriate resource allocation that will help improve the health of the population and reduce inequalities. HNAs give the evidence needed on a community on how to plan services and address issues dealing with health inequalities. They strengthen the community’s involvement when making decisions and improve teamwork and formation of partnerships among community members and health organizations (Tobi, 2016). Health resources are also well utilized for optimal benefits to the community. HNAs are a necessity under the Health & Social Care Act 2012 as they visualize the future and help with effective decision making in any organization.

There are certain systematic processes that are involved when carrying out HNAs. These processes provide the perfect opportunities to engage the specific communities involved, gather information and evidence about the population from the population and utilize evidence-based principles to implement change in service and make other necessary improvements. The goal of any HNA is to identify the most crucial health need for a community and develop strategic methods to address this health need for the advancement of the community. There are five basic steps that have been produced to assist health professionals when they are carrying out HNAs. The first step is to get started by identifying the population, the goal of the HNA, the stakeholders, resources needed and risks involved (Cavanagh and Chadwick, 2005). The second step is profiling the population, gathering data, perceiving needs and identifying health determinant factors. Step three is assessing the health priority that should be focused on. Step four is to create the action plan for the changes that need to be made and step five is measuring impact and reviewing the project.

Identifying Health Priorities and gathering Data

Perhaps one of the most important steps in HNA is gathering data about the selected community. HNA is an evidence-based practice that requires accurate data and findings support the implementation of effective care strategies. Information gathering and conducting research are important methods that provide all the data necessary for comprehensive assessment. Primarily, there are two types of research that can be carried out: primary research and secondary research.

Primary research gathers new and original data from the primary sources. It involves in-depth research and one on one communication with community members. It often requires a lot of money, time and other resources which make it less desirable. The content, however, is often very desirable as it is original. Primary research can also be described as information gathering. Secondary research on the other hand basically involves analyzing, interpreting and summarizing the information from primary research.  The researcher obtains information from sources that are easily accessible and decides what is relevant to the project they are working on.

Information gathering as Primary Research

As described earlier, primary research can be referred to as the gathering of first-hand information. It involves a deep exploration of facts and raw data by the researcher often not filtering what is necessary or unnecessary to the project. In HNA, information gathering reveals all the necessary health information about the population in question, their health issues, and resources available to them. Primary research involves identifying the health priorities of the population and factors that have the most significant impact. The information collected will then be analyzed for relevance. The process involves many field activities such as conducting interviews, administering questionnaires and carrying out observations. These processes are carried out by the researcher themselves and not by a secondary member. As such, information gathering can be termed as the initial process of any research study. Primary research on HNA has been carried out by organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) as seen in the report by Brodie and Perera (2014). The report compiles information about the prevalence of childhood obesity in England from data gathered by the WHO using primary research. It presents statistics and other data about the increase of overweight and obese children in England summarizing and interpreting the data to show why HNA was necessary. The WHO collects information through censuses and surveys that are used to present the information for compilation into health reports.

Secondary Research

As opposed to primary research, secondary research involves the use of data that already exists. Secondary research employs the use of data from primary research, analyzing it, interpreting it and summarizing it for presentation. It is an easier method of research that can be carried out to cover vast sources of information. Secondary research can summarize information from as many sources as possible by only taking out the information that is necessary for the report that is being compiled. Sources of information for research include government agencies, media sources, health associations and other sources. The sources have to be verifiable, trustworthy and the primary source of the data that is being analyzed. Secondary research aims at getting a better understanding of the subject as it gathers all the pertinent information about a subject. The information is then published in documents such as journals, newsletters, reports, newspapers, encyclopedias and other related pieces. These documents are often easier to interpret for both health researchers and everyday readers.

A perfect example of a report compiled from secondary research is the one carried out by Barnardo’s (2002). The HNA was carried out to assess the health needs of Black children and children from ethnic minorities. The research compiles statistics from national census, WHO, Health Survey for England, health reports from other researchers and the Government’s Derelict Land Survey among other sources. The researcher selects all the necessary information from these sources and compiles them to show all the relevant information about the health needs of black children and minority ethnic children as well. Huws (2010: 21) also carries out secondary research on obesity and overweight children in Cornwall and Scilly and how the levels are rising each day at a worrisome rate. Obesity has become a primary health concern in Cornwall and Scilly, especially in children. The report compiles statistics from government agencies such as the National Child Measurement Programme, Health Survey for England and a local Health Weight Group.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Information gathering

Information gathering is the initial process that where all the information necessary for the HNA is collected. Advantages of the process include the fact that the information is collected first-hand by the researcher themselves. There is no room for bias as the information is collected from the source. The research conducted is deep and thoroughly explores the health needs identified (Hewson and Stewart, 2016). The researcher also gets to identify with the community they are engaging with and not view them as statistics and data on paper. This is important in HNA where the goal of the assessment is to provide the population identified with their most crucial health needs. The researcher interacts with the population and gets information that is unfiltered and unchanged from the community which enables them to establish the truth. As opposed to secondary research where the information has already been predetermined by an initial source, primary research allows the researcher to establish what information they deem pertinent to the research study.

There are, however, several disadvantages of carrying out primary research. First, information gathering is acquiring raw data. It, therefore, means carrying out surveys, handing out questionnaires, conducting interviews amongst other methods. Such methods require a lot of time to be carried out properly (Bowling, 2014). Conducting primary research methods in large populations requires planning over days and months to ensure that data is collected properly and all the relevant data is collected. It also requires a lot of resources to perform such tasks. The main resource aside from time would be money which might not be readily available. For such projects to be carried out a lot of money is required to ensure that all the tools needed for the exercise are available. The process is also quite tedious especially if it is carried out by a small research group. Interviewing a group of about fifty respondents and recording all the information on paper is a tedious task for a small group of maybe two or three researchers. However, the same group would be able to carry out secondary research with the same amount of resources.

Primary research is also very involving and needs to be carried out by the researcher personally. Deep involvement means that in case anything happens to the researcher, it is quite difficult to go further in the research process. Lastly, primary research leaves a lot of room for error and the collection of irrelevant data. Unlike secondary research, information gathering is carried out from scratch meaning the researcher formulates their path as they go along (Green and Thorogood, 2018). The research leaves a huge margin for error as the researcher goes back and forth trying to verify that they have the right information. It also adds to the tedious nature of the task as the verification has to be carried out along with the research.


Reference List

Barnado’s, (2002) A Health Needs Assessment of Black and Minority Ethnic Children’s Needs, Online at [Accessed: 10 April 2018]

Bowling, A. (2014) Research methods in health: investigating health and health service, UK: McGraw-Hill Education.

Brodie, C. and Perera, G. (2014) Childhood Obesity in Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster, London: JSNA.

Cavanagh, S. and Chadwick, K. (2005) Health needs assessment: a practical guide, Online at [Accessed: 10 April 2018]

Green, J. and Thorogood, N. (2018) Qualitative methods for health research, California: Sage

Huws, D. W. (2010) ‘A healthy weight population health needs assessment for the populations of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’, The Full Technical Report, II (1):1-102

Hewson, C. and Stewart, D. W. (2016) Internet research methods, California: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd

Tobi, P. (2016) Health Needs Assessment, In Public Health Intelligence Cham: Springer

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