What is the NS Health Atlas?

The Nova Scotia Health Atlas is an interactive, web-based mapping tool that illustrates differences in measures of health status, health service use, and the social determinants of health across small geographic areas of Nova Scotia. The purpose of the Atlas is to better enable Nova Scotia’s health care stakeholders to understand and respond to the health care challenges facing the province. Over time, the atlas will evolve to include more information and additional features for users.

Why an Atlas?

Geography is not typically a talking point in patient care. However, it is part of the information essential for health policy and systems planning for two main reasons. First, individual and population health and wellness are strongly influenced by geography. Proximity to services, neighbourhood safety, opportunities or education and employment in a commuting distance, and air and water quality of living environment all affect health. Second, strategies to improve health of the population are often geographically based. Allocation of human resources, clinics, and funding by nature involves a question of ‘where’—to maximize the patient reach, to minimize the cost to the health system, or to reduce the risks of patients most in need. Geographic mapping of health outcomes and services is a powerful tool for decision making in health policy and planning. Interactive atlases (maps and charts) are used in innovative policy health systems development and interventions in some provinces in Canada and other countries.

Geographic Area Units

The atlas data is displayed in the Nova Scotia Health Atlas at four levels.

Area Description Number of People per Unit (Approximate)
Census Dissemination Area (DA) As defined by statistics Canada. A DA is a small, relatively stable geographic unit composed of one or more adjacent dissemination blocks (an area bounded on all sides by roads and/or boundaries of standard geographic areas, with a population of 400 to 700 persons). The dissemination block is the smallest geographic area for which population and dwelling counts are disseminated. Dissemination blocks cover all the territory of Canada and all of Canada is divided into Dissemination Areas. 500-700
Community Cluster Newly developed area units based on aggregated census dissemination areas intended to align as close as possible with community activity. 3,000-34,000
Community Networks Geographic area units based on aggregated Community Clusters and County boundaries. 27,000 – 169,000
Health Authority Zones Nova Scotia Health Authority Management Zones to support local health services leadership, management, and delivery developed in accordance with typical service access, practitioner referral patterns, and other service planning and delivery boundaries. 150,000 – 411,000
*Each of the area units “nest” within each other as shown below: **Forward Sortation Area (FSA) is also still available until geocoding is complete and these reporting projects can be converted to the newly established geographic areas.


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