GIS holds promise for boosting care transportation accuracy, lowering costs

The use of geographic information systems technology holds the potential to help hospitals and other healthcare providers make more accurate care transportation decisions--and thus improve care quality and save money--according to new research out of the University of Cincinnati.

For the study, to be presented this week at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Tampa, Fla., the researchers used GIS technology to analyze patient transport data from the Maryland Medevac Helicopter Program. They examined 2,200 cases from 2000 to 2011, and retroactively deployed GIS to compare ambulance versus medical helicopter response times, with a particular focus on travel time equal to or less than 60 minutes, also known as the "golden hour" for critical-care patients.

The researchers determined that in 31 percent of the trauma cases in which the helicopter was deployed, an ambulance could have delivered patients to the hospital within the golden hour, as well; the latter would have saved taxpayers thousands of dollars.

"As the system becomes more motivated to fly fewer patients--not just for cost but also for safety--we think GIS is going to play a key role," Samuel Galvagno Jr., an assistant professor in the divisions of trauma anesthesiology and adult critical care medicine at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, said, according to an announcement. "The technology and analytical methods that [UC assistant professor of geography Michael Widener] has developed for this age are going to play a key role in policy decisions and allocation of what is an expensive and limited resource."

While according to Widener, the technology could account for traffic jams and other delays, Zac Ginsberg, M.D., also of the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, said the researchers still must take into account the severity of the patient.

GIS technology already is being used by researchers to analyze health and wellness trends with regard to specific locales. In May 2012, for instance, it was reported that Loma Linda (Calif.) University Medical Center providers were geocoding patient addresses to determine how much of a role environment--and in particular, pollution--played in a patient's health status. One month earlier, a series of studies published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine determined that GIS can help to analyze trends associated with childhood obesity.

To learn more:
- here's the research abstract
- read the announcement