Are you involved with geographic and geospatial information systems in health care? Then you’ll be happy to know that GIS in the industry is officially a “big idea,” according to MIT’s Sloan School of Management. The combination is a natural match, but still relatively few health care providers have made use of the rapidly growing technology.
Only a small percentage of attendees at major GIS events are from health care, according to Amy Sadler, a management and program analysts from the Veteran’s Administration of informatics and analytics. That’s ironic, because health care was an area that pioneered factoring geographic information into analysis. Dr. John Snow famously used mapping in the 19th century to track down the source of a cholera outbreak in London. But for many years, the industry didn’t significantly expand the approach that Snow had taken. That is changing, and a reason why many in health care management might consider obtaining GIS training.
Sadler says her three and a half years at the VA have been spent helping it to transition from paper-based maps — literally, people putting pins into paper maps to help look for patterns — to Web-based maps that allow clinicians to do their own searches. She’s worked with a team of statisticians, researchers and programmers to develop a variety of tools for using GIS. One lets hospital planners track enrollment, to help decide where to base future facilities. In January, they’ll begin testing an app on drive times to see patients in the VA’s home-based patient practice, to help plan the most efficient routes for VA medical workers.
Why the increased interest? Because the industry has begun to realize how helpful GIS can be. It is still a powerful tool for public health, epidemiology, and tracking disease progressing. Executives in health care are learning that GIS is equally useful in strategy planning, particularly for locating new facilities, better understanding community patient needs, and capital planning. GIS also can help marketing and operations to better direct resources in timely fashion.
Although the article does make the point that GIS could be a good tool in understanding the problems in national health care, there are some issues in its adoption. Few organizations in the industry have people with the necessary background in GIS. Executives don’t necessarily even know they can apply it because there is no institutional knowledge on which to rely. The lack of expertise also makes it difficult for a provider to know how many ways the technology could be useful.
That is why having an expertise in how to apply GIS in a health care setting could be a valuable professional credential. By grasping what could be done and the potential limitations of regulation and ethics, a person could help an organization find its way to more effective patient practice as well as better business.