New mapping software could be changing the way your city is tackling public health. Geographic information systems (GIS), a collection of tools that make it possible to visualize sets of data on regional maps, are growing in popularity for state and local health agencies. These tools work to aggregate data collected from censuses and public agencies and put that data to work to better manage resources and plan accordingly.
In a larger-scale initiative, the Centers for Disease Control launched its 500 Cities Project, which aims to provide data on the geographic distribution of chronic disease risk factors; public health concerns such as alcoholism and physical activity; and the occurrences of diseases like heart disease or diabetes in a specific geographic area.
The hope is that by better visualizing and understanding the geographic distribution of health variables, local health departments will be able to plan public health interventions more effectively.
But many cities are taking a highly targeted approach with GIS data, using the information to target issues specific to their localities.
Aurora Gets a Glimpse of Its Homeless Population
Working with a GIS company and new map-based tools, a team of 40 volunteers was able to more accurately collect and document the city’s homeless population. The map-based tool also ensured the city maximized its resources in the effort, as they were able to visualize what ground other volunteers had already covered.
By collecting more accurate, real-time information, the GIS tool can provide a deeper insight into the scope of the city’s homelessness problem and ensure that local health departments are properly prepared to address it.
“If you want make the problem better over time, you first have to understand where it is in your community,” Jeremiah Lindemann, a solution engineer at GIS company Esri, told GovTech. “When you capture the locations of people, then you can start to ask, ‘Where do we place shelters? Where can we put the resources in place?’ There is a spatial component to all of that, making sure you are putting those resources where they make the most sense.”
Further, Lindemann notes that the map of homelessness data can be overlaid with other information, including economic and demographic information, to allow for further analysis. And according to Shelley McKittrick, the city’s homelessness program director, the city will use the GIS data to figure out how to best distribute resources to the homelessness population.
“We have outreach teams who are out there every day; they may be in a van or they may be on foot, and now they can use this app in their daily activities,” McKittrick told GovTech. “Now that we have points on a map, we can start to identify those individuals who are at those different points and understand what their specific needs are.”
GIS Could Helps States Address Viral Hepatitis Outbreaks
Viral hepatitis spreads fast, really fast. Often too fast for healthcare professionals to document and understand the outbreak in a way that will allow them to treat it more effectively.
But after outbreaks in Virginia and Hawaii alarmed state departments and healthcare officials alike last year, Este Geraghty, chief medical officer and health solutions director at Esri, published an article on GovTech in October about how GIS data can help increase response time and strategy.
She believes that the expediency of GIS to rapidly process and continually update health information would better allow health systems to detect, locate and respond to an outbreak:
By correlating outbreak reports, neighborhood income levels, and morbidity and mortality data and putting these onto a map, the analyst can see patterns and relationships within diverse communities to find commonalities. GIS statistical and forecasting models predict disease spread and locate vulnerable entities such as neighborhoods and schools. The outcome helps health services officials target their investigation, vaccination and treatment activities.
Arizona Improves Its Health Analytics with GIS
The Arizona Department of Health Services has implemented GIS for its community dashboard with the aim to better access, analyze and sort health data, thus delivering services more effectively.
“If you are a community planner and you want to see where there are higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, you can compare data from the last four years to see how different areas have changed. This information can be very useful in how you plan for the future,” ADHS director Will Humble said on Esri’s website.
The department used census data in order to better visualize information on cancer, adult and infant mortality, natality, demographics and other key areas. According to Humble, having access to the information allows local health departments to better offer services to the community.
“To improve the overall health of our communities, access to these kinds of services is vital,” he added.