There’s a change going on in health care. Laws like the Affordable Care are driving evolution in provider IT departments, with expansions of technical staff and greater roles for CIOs.
At the same time, there is change going on in the business of health care. Pricing cannot keep rising the way they have. Patients demand better care and organizations cannot simply merge their way out of the dangers from competition.
One path to a more efficient and effective future starts at a point where business and technology naturally meet: in geographic and geospatial information systems, or GIS. A natural ally is GIS training at all levels of care providers.
Health care has a distinguished spot in GIS. It was literally where the first notable implementation of the basic concepts happened in the 19th century, when London physician John Snow used maps to find the source of a cholera epidemic. The feat was even more noteworthy when you realize that not only were there no computers to aid him, but medicine had yet to grasp the pathogenic model of disease.
As Dr. Stephen McElroy, GIS program chair at American Sentinel University, recently wrote, GIS can help the health care industry address business issues — strategy, capital planning, marketing, and operations — while also helping such care issues as improved understanding of a community’s current and future needs or identifying potential sources of public health problems.
By using location as a logical nexus, GIS allows executives and managers to evaluate the interplay of factors that affect health care delivery and the operations of providers. Understanding the implications of such interactions can lead to better decision-making.
A practical example of the latter is what the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice has achieved with GIS, analytics, and 100 TB of Medicare claims data. Over the last 20 year, according to CIO Magazine, the group has built the largest non-government set of Medicare data.
This data, compiled and displayed in the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, has measured trends in hospitalization rates, ambulance use and medication use, getting as granular as specific hospitals and, in the case of medication use, subsets of the patient population (such as those with advanced cancer or chronic illness).
The analyses can include factors like travel time for patients to get to and from a facility.
Trying to understand that much raw data is difficult, which is why the Institute uses GIS and sophisticated data analytics to create visualizations that can let care facilities compare themselves to competitors and also give insight into policy makers. Now the group is moving beyond Medicare alone to consider pediatrics and surgery.
The large challenges faced by the health care industry will need the most powerful tools available to meet them. GIS is one of those tools.