GIS Powers Smart Primary Healthcare

GIS Powers Smart Primary Healthcare
The visual aspect of GIS, using maps and other tools, allow researchers, public health officials, and policy makers to see more meaning in data.

Here’s a basic reason why people in healthcare should get GIS training: Geographic information systems have become a vital tool in primary healthcare.

The Primary Health Care Research & Information Service, an Australian national primary healthcare organization, finds that mapping in primary care becomes a powerful tools. That’s because “GIS allows the user to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, reports, and charts, and to structure data in ways which permits use of geo-spatial analysis tools to explore underlying structures.”

Without visualization, data too often looks like an undistinguished mass of numeric ink. Seeing patterns for the first time is a challenge as your eye moves from one column of figures to another. Correlating the information between reports or tables is even more difficult. That is why GIS is so important. The geographic component provides a common nexus. It ties together otherwise disparate data so they can be compared and contrasted.

The visual aspect of GIS, using maps and other tools, allow researchers, public health officials, and policy makers to see more meaning in data. Combining primary health data with other information, such as population demographics and service provision, offers benefits that include the following:

  • the ability to spot trends and patterns in data
  • identify current service capacity as well as barriers to delivering services where they are needed
  • pinpointing where changes in service provision might be necessary over time
  • a geographic display that allows visual interpretation of data

One way to explain the importance of GIS technology and methods to primary health is to consider that their use brings together the worlds of traditional medical care and public health. By taking anonymized patient data and analyzing it in the context of locations and their associated characteristics, whether socio-economic, environmental, demographic, legal, historic, or other factor, researchers can readily combine individual and systemic approaches that have tended to make primary care and public health two different realms of study.

The circumstances, patterns, and trends in conditions physicians see can have a significant impact on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. For example, the Healthfirst Network Practice Atlas provides information to general practitioners to help them “develop business models for more effective health care services/outcomes.”

By bringing the worlds of personal practice and public health together, care systems remove much of what is otherwise a guessing game by care providers. The result can be more effective treatment of individuals, better strategic and capacity planning on the part of providers, and an improvement in societal health.