How Geospatial Data Can Be Used in Health Care

By Devin Partida, Editor-in-Chief,
Twitter: @rehackmagazine

Data offers many opportunities for improvement to modern industry, especially in the health care and medical fields. Throughout the pandemic, geospatial data has been instrumental in tracking the illness, its spread and its general impact. The technology was used to create visualizations to further decisions and action, which has certainly positively impacted the fight against COVID-19.

It highlights just how useful geographic and geospatial data can be in health care. Of course, it’s just one example of many. How else can it be used? What benefits can it provide for health care and medical-related IT?

Researching Trends

Health care professionals and administrators are very busy people. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that they aren’t always looking at incoming data streams to identify trends or patterns. In fact, they probably wouldn’t notice unless it’s a rampant issue. Geographic information, behaviors and patterns can help identify local health concerns, including budding problems, but in a more digestible way.

A USC study found associations between wind patterns and pesticide-treated fields, with the results being a higher likelihood of prostate cancer for those living in homes downwind of the affected areas. It meant that people living there could be treated appropriately, especially by conducting related tests to detect and prevent cancer. What’s more, important health notifications can go out to those who might not know they’ve been exposed, as a proactive approach for administering preventive health care.

Tracking the Spread of Infections

Highly infectious diseases can spread quickly and without warning, especially during an initial outbreak. Some contenders include Ebola and measles. However, it’s also apparent how well geospatial data contributed to the community’s tracking of COVID over the past couple of years. There’s more to it than just tracking the spread of these diseases, as vaccination rates and treatment effectiveness can also be gleaned through geographic information.

Visualizing the resulting data on a map can also afford many health care-related benefits, some of which might not initially be appreciated. For instance, during a perilous outbreak, it would be easier to identify where supplies and personnel are needed most and determine a course of action for some of the biggest hotspots. It may be necessary to send affected people to another, low-pressure area with more resources available.

Optimizing Care

It’s no surprise that certain health care facilities are more equipped for a particular situation than others. One hospital might have more supplies or an exclusive machine or tools that others do not. Some may be understaffed, or maybe they just don’t have specialists at the ready. Whatever the case, geospatial information can help optimize care for local communities and on a grand scale. Which neighborhoods are in greater need of specific types of care — including rehabilitation centers or nursing homes?

Care can be tailored around local and environmental triggers, like better cancer detection or treatments when it’s a prevalent concern.

Unprecedented Reaction Times

Consider how many businesses, such as logistic and freight fleets, use geospatial data. The healthcare industry can also employ geographic data points to improve reaction times to major outbreaks and events or even respond to medical situations. It is a broad overview, but that’s what makes it such a useful element. Color-coded and more visually stimulating map presentations help analyze shipping routes or customer demands in the business world. Those same instances can certainly apply in health care.

Imagine ambulances and first responders equipped with real-time route plotting solutions that can help navigate heavy traffic, road hazards and beyond. It would mean they can get patients to a hospital quickly, possibly faster than ever before. Geo-mapping software that identifies the most disaster-prone areas could allow nearby facilities to prepare and plan for incoming service requirements.

Welcome to the Digital Frontier

There are many more examples of how geographic and geospatial data can be applied to healthcare and medical services. This illustrates why it’s such a revolutionary form of technology. Geographic information systems (GIS) have been around for quite some time but have recently evolved, becoming a more prevalent and instrumental source of aid for professionals in the industry.

As society moves toward digitally exclusive solutions and technologies, the reliance on data will grow along with it, including the kind of information afforded by geospatial systems.