Using Indoor GIS for Better Health Care

Geographic information systems are usually associated with outdoor locations: the movement of goods through a supply chain, locations of utility poles, or the analysis of business prospects. But, as people with GIS training or who are interested in health informatics will want to know, the technology is expanding into indoor mapping, which is great news for the health care industry.

The health care industry already uses GIS in a number of ways, whether analyzing the spread of contagious diseases, managing the provision and delivery of service to communities, or looking at the links between health and where people work or live.

All that is outward facing, treating location as something that surrounds health care facilities; the notion of indoor is becoming important in the world, whether involved in building security, interior navigation, retail analysis, or, now, health care. GIS software leader Esri recently joined the In-Location Alliance, a trade association of companies that are focused on accurate indoor location services, and it has offered indoor mapping for years.

Just as retail chains can use better analysis of in-store traffic patterns and a government might want navigation to services for citizens, hospitals could make good use of indoor GIS systems and analysis.

For example, the proper operation of a hospital assumes that people can be found when they need to be. Patients typically move from one area to another, such as from being admitted to a bed to radiology to the operating room, into recovery, and back to the room. At any point, a hospital should know the physical location of a patient. That becomes increasingly important with those who could be confused and able to wander off, as happened recently in a San Diego hospital. The patient eventually died in a canyon.

A wireless device built into an ID bracelet could give hospitals the information they need as well as generate alarms when a patient seems on a path to lead prematurely out of the hospital. Visitors could get a location beacon so they could get a cup of coffee without being unaccounted for. Staff, as well, could be tracked so finding the right professional for a given case could no longer be a matter of paging and waiting for someone to answer.

Medical devices and equipment are important resources that are often expensive and with limited availability. Those that professionals can move from one place to another can go missing just when they’re needed most. A proper GIS system could track them with wireless as well, allowing medical staff to search for a given device, and then display its location on a detailed interior map.

With all the location and movement data a GIS system could accumulate, administrators could run analyses against patient records and other logs to see whether the hospital is optimally laid out. Rather than adding facilities, a management team might find that some reconfiguration could provide significant improvement without massive capital allocation.

Indoor location and GIS techniques offer big benefits for health care providers, and their patients.

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