{Guest Column} Health & Wellness: Qualitative and quantitative data important to quality of life

By Julie Drake
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | Busy month full of thoughts and meetings, some with an environmental bent and others with a behavioral and physical health emphasis, all with the general purpose of making Rio Blanco County better, whether improvement of the human condition or the places in which we live.
Each meeting had a different emphasis, but all had a scientific thread. It was interesting how the people at the meetings regarding environment focused on quantitative data: numbers, measurements, graphs and statistics. Then there were the human services meetings that used only qualitative data: stories, observations, feelings, professional opinions. The medical related meetings used both types of data: stories and observations informing the use of surveys, numbers and statistics to corroborate or refute the observations.
It seems the environmental scientists could learn and use more qualitative data. Stories, observations, photos and memories really can be hard science and shouldn’t be thought of as too “touchy feely.” Maybe an elderly resident has lived on the river their entire life, and remembers before the invasion of the Russian Olive, before trophy homes and access bridges. By living through change, they develop other observations and hunches about when, where and why things happened.
The same person might go to the doctor feeling a bit off. They simply notice or “observe” that they don’t have enough energy and they are drinking more. It is this qualitative data the physician uses to make decisions about what quantitative data is needed, data like blood counts, blood pressure, or other lab tests and images.
The behavioral health worker could learn from the quantitative world. Learning actual amounts spent on food, dates and times police were called, or encouraging clients to record dates when they feel hopeless are numbers that can help identify patterns over time. Numbers are easily graphed and can make an impressive picture of a problem.
We live in a day of evidence-based practice. Evidence can look many ways. Dual probing (qualitative and quantitative) is one of the many things to think about when trying to solve a problem. No matter what it looks like, data should be recorded and used to make our world a better place.

Julie Drake

Julie Drake is the Rio Blanco County Director of Public Health.