Health-trend mapping technology grows in popularity

The healthcare industry increasingly sees geographic information system (GIS) software as a tool to improve the quality of care by tracking and analyzing area trends, according to an article published this week in The Atlantic Cities.

At Loma Linda (Calif.) University Medical Center, for example, providers are geo-coding patient addresses to determine just how much of a role environment--and in particular, pollution--plays in a patient's health status.

Meanwhile, Estella Geraghty, an assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at the University of California, Davis, is using GIS to determine how other environmental factors--like access to healthy foods and recreational areas such as outdoor parks--relates to diabetes cases in different areas. She told The Atlantic Cities that, after years of ignorance, her provider colleagues are starting to warm up to the idea of the technology's impact on healthcare.

"Today they think it's very interesting," she said.

A series of studies published in the April American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that GIS can help to analyze trends associated with childhood obesity. One study used GIS in a similar manner as Geraghty, evaluating the environments of children living near Seattle and San Diego to determine playability and proximity to healthy food options.

"The environmental measures employed objectively assessed GIS data to create a novel study design and recruitment scheme that allowed examination of the separate and interactive effects of both physical activity and nutrition measures of built environment, which are believed to represent the most important dimensions of obesogenic environments for youth," the study's authors wrote.

And just this week, Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based geospatial and IT consulting firm VSolvit won a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to use its interactive mapping application tool to show the effectiveness of GIS in healthcare.

To learn more:
- read The Atlantic Cities article
- check out the VSolvit announcement

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