What Is a Health Impact Assessment?
Health impact assessments help decision-makers make better choices by bringing together scientific data, health expertise, and public input to identify the potential and often overlooked public health effects, both positive and negative, of proposed laws, regulations, projects, policies, and programs. HIAs broadly consider environmental, social, and economic factors related to health and evaluate the possible impacts of a proposed project, plan, program, or policy on the health and well-being of the community. HIAs employ a variety of data sources, including qualitative and quantitative analyses and input from stakeholders, to identify health concerns related to the proposal and determine how these impacts may be distributed among the population, especially vulnerable groups such as seniors, children, and low-income families.
The HIA process*
Step 1: Screening. The HIA team and stakeholders determine whether an HIA is needed, can be accomplished in a timely manner, and would add value to the decision-making process.
Step 2: Scoping. The HIA team and stakeholders identify the potential health effects that will be considered and develop a plan for completing the assessment, including specifying their respective roles and responsibilities.
Step 3: Assessment. The HIA team evaluates the proposed project, program, policy, or plan and identifies its most likely health effects using a range of data sources, analytic methods, and stakeholder input to answer the research questions developed during scoping.
Step 4: Recommendations. The team and stakeholders develop practical solutions that can be implemented within the political, economic, or technical limitations of the project or policy to minimize identified health risks and to maximize potential health benefits.
Step 5: Reporting. This step involves dissemination of information—including the HIA’s purpose, process, findings, and recommendations—to a wide range of stakeholders.
Step 6: Monitoring and evaluation. The team and stakeholders evaluate the HIA according to accepted standards of practice. They also monitor and measure its impact on decision-making and on health.
*R. Bhatia et al., Minimum Elements and Practice Standards for Health Impact Assessment, Version 3 (September 2014).