Bring the GIS to the Health Care, not the Health Care to the GIS

GIS and other geospatial technologies are marvelous tools for the health care industry. Whether used in strategic planning for hospitals, epidemiological studies by public health officials, or policy construction by government agencies, geographic information systems are important for accurate and nuanced analysis and decision support. The question is not whether to implement GIS, but how.

That is more complicated than it might seem. Of course, a health care organization of any sort could hire GIS consultants or even employees whose primary background is in the technology and its various applications. But many organizations should consider whether they might focus on GIS training for health care professionals.

Not that health care organizations should avoid retaining or hiring specialized help. Far from it. GIS requires a unique collection of expertise, including databases, visual design, geographic concepts, mathematical modeling, enterprise software and data analysis. There is a wealth of specialized applications and tools to which an organization might want access.

And yet, to say that knowledge of GIS can rest solely with hired guns is like saying that no one outside of a handful of experts should know how to use a PC. The latter is ludicrous because computers are an everyday tool in any private or public sector. People must be able to type memos, examine spreadsheets, exchange email, and use the Web at a bare minimum.

GIS has become important to any modern health care organization that wants to more efficiently examine information for better strategic directions and decisions. Asking professionals to have only arms-length access to important data are unrealistic. Given competition and market demands, there is not enough time or money to establish a priest class that will act as the data intermediary for executives, doctors, nurses and researchers.

What the industry needs is health care professional appropriately trained to obtain data, use basic GIS tools, and undertake analysis for the information necessary for their job functions, whether in care delivery, epidemiology, wellness research, or even capital and capacity planning or marketing. The need to become better at health care, to address serious public health issues, to more wisely employ expensive resources, and even to more intelligently and effectively bring services to market demands the capabilities.

This isn’t to say that nurses, doctors, and executives all must become GIS specialists. The most specialized work can still be handled by experts. However, to learn about fundamental GIS tools, geographic and data concepts, and data manipulation and analysis, possibly through an online certificate program that can work around an existing career, would help prepare health care professionals to use an important tool and to better carry out their existing duties.

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