Recent Regional Health Crisis Demonstrates Importance of GIS Technology for Tracking Modern Health Problems

– Health Care Industry Needs Skilled Professionals with the Ability to Apply Geospatial Concepts and Insights –

AURORA, Colo. – February 27, 2014 – A recent regional health crisis in Lake Champlain shed new light on the importance of geographic information systems (GIS) technology for tracking harmful contaminations and the crucial role that trained GIS professionals play assisting the health care industry to prevent the spread of disease.

“The use of GIS technology can provide the health care industry with the spatial context needed to understand and respond to the spread of infectious disease,” says Stephen McElroy, GIS program chair at American Sentinel University. “GIS trained professionals are key players in gathering data, conducting analysis and producing maps that convey important community health information.”

Lake Champlain was a tourist destination, until pollution dumped into the large body of water launched explosive growth of toxic blue-green algae that killed pets and sickened people who entered the waters. And in some areas, Lake Champlain also served as a drinking water source.

GIS tools helped researchers determine that people living within a half mile of an algae-contaminated body of water have more than double the risk of coming down with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“Without GIS technology, tracking the spread of harmful contamination would be near impossible,” says Dr. McElroy.

Maps provide a visual representation of the distribution of a particular public health condition and its relationship to any number of other factors. GIS can show the differential impacts of a disease for certain populations which may lead to targeted public policy efforts to address at-risk groups.

“The ability to effectively serve the members of a community is predicated on understanding the unique aspects of the population. GIS is a powerful tool for gaining that knowledge,” says Dr. McElroy.

The fact that GIS technology could be effectively used in such a situation shouldn’t be surprising.

He points out that one of the earliest uses of the concepts behind GIS was public health. During an 1854 outbreak of cholera in London, England, Dr. John Snow mapped cases and eventually pinpointed the common water source that caused the illness. This feat was even more remarkable because this work happened before medical practitioners understood the microbial nature of disease.

“GIS plays an important role in assembling data and disseminating information about medical issues and demonstrates why GIS training is so important in the health care field today,” says Dr. McElroy.

He says that GIS training is important for understanding new diseases, allergens or other unknowns because the process of disease surveillance is inherently geographic.

The spatial and temporal distribution of known cases and deaths related to a particular disease is mapped and analyzed to gain an understanding of the disease characteristics and maps provide a simple, but effective means of evaluating trends at the local, state and national levels.

“The integration of other datasets can provide explanatory power to understand the ways in which the spread of disease was promoted or restricted due to biophysical, environmental or social factors,” says Dr. McElroy. “If GIS is important when the mechanisms are understood, they are critical when facing new diseases, toxins, allergens, or other unknowns.”

For instance, when SARS first appeared in the early 2000s, GIS was employed to assemble the data that would ultimately help bring the problem under control and disseminate that information around the world as needed.

As new health problems continue to arise, Dr. McElroy says GIS technology and GIS professionals will continue to play an even bigger role to develop innovative ways to harness the data integration and spatial visualization powers of GIS to combat medical problems and help humanity.

“The potential of GIS in health care is gradually being recognized across the industry in both the public and private sectors. As the health care landscape continues to develop, talented individuals with an advanced education in GIS are well-positioned to seek meaningful employment opportunities in the health care industry.”

In today’s technology-driven world the health care industry needs skilled professionals with the ability to gather, synthesize and apply geospatial concepts and insights. Learn more about American Sentinel University’s online GIS degree programs.

About American Sentinel University

American Sentinel University delivers the competitive advantages of accredited associate, bachelor’s and master’s online degree programs focused on the needs of high-growth sectors, including information technology, computer science, GIS masters programs, online GIS certificates, computer information systems and business intelligence degrees. The university is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency and is a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.