GIS Helps Patients Find Resources

Often the focus of the health care industry on geographic and geospatial information systems is on making a care provider more efficient in a variety of ways. That efficiency can extend from public health considerations and disease detection to marketing and strategic capital planning.

It’s easy to see how GIS technology could be applied to health care.

But there is another viewpoint that GIS training can inform: that of the person who needs a resource. Health care providers, organizations, and both NGO and government officials can use GIS technology to help people find the information and resources they need to be active participants in their health.

An example in the U.K. is maps of so-called health-based places of safety. Based on the Mental Health Act, police can detain someone they believe “to have a mental disorder, and who may cause harm to themselves or another” and to bring the person to what is a health-based place of safety — a health facility equipped and willing to receive the person for assessment. There are 161 such facilities in the U.K. The interactive maps allow police to find a nearby facility based on the age of the person in question.

In the U.S., diabetes is rampant, affecting 8.3 percent of the population according to the American Diabetes Association. Of that 25.8 million adults and children, 7 million are undiagnosed. In addition, another 79 million are pre-diabetic. That means many people are in need of information and help in managing the disease. Michigan’s Diabetes Partners in Action Coalition offers a map of hospital education resources for consumers interested in a certified diabetes self-management program. Hover the cursor over a red star on the map and you see the participating facilities.

The American Heart Association offers an online map and search tool. Consumers can use it to “identify hospitals that have received recognition for achievement in American Heart Association/American Stroke Association health care quality improvement programs” (although not meant to be used in the case of a heart attack!).

It’s easy to see how GIS technology could be applied. A health insurance company could let consumers find affiliated providers near them by providing an address and the type of service required. States could show hospitals with information on outcome success for specific types of care. Patients could look for nearby wellness resources, such as gyms and nutrition counseling. The main idea is to remember that consumers are the ultimate customers. They have needs and need to know where they can satisfy them, based on a variety of factors including geography. By putting themselves into the shoes of a consumer, health care professionals can find new ways to apply GIS and improve care delivery.