GIS targets 'hot spots' for better population health management

Jeff Rowe
GIS targets 'hot spots' for better population health management

If you had to rank by frequency of use all the terms generally associated with health information exchange, “hot spots” would probably not rank very high, if you even thought of it at all.  But that may be changing as healthcare organizations begin to include geographic information system (GIS) software as one of their core IT programs.

According to a recent article in Healthcare Informatics, providers are increasingly using GIS software to enhance their population health management programs.  For example, the Camden (NJ) Coalition of Healthcare Providers uses GIS data to identify “hot spots,” meaning the local high-rise buildings where large numbers of hospital emergency room “super users” live. “By identifying and working with these individuals on patient-centered care coordination issues, the coalition has been able to reduce emergency room use and in-patient stays.”

In Florida, meanwhile, “Nancy Hardt, M.D., is looking at hot spots of issues related to teen pregnancies, low-birthweight babies, domestic violence and child maltreatment. She worked with community groups and agencies to create a family resource center in a neighborhood of great need, (and) they also developed a mobile clinic staffed by medical professionals and volunteers.”

As Este Geraghty, M.D., chief medical officer and health solutions director for ESRI, the world’s largest GIS software company, sees it, one reason GIS software is only catching on now is that until recently use of the technology required a significant amount of expertise.

But “that has all changed now,” she says, “so the timing may be right to move (GIS) forward as a tool in the analytics suite that a hospital or health system might use.” In her view, using GIS to understand the social determinants of health holds great promise. “I can relate anything to health. If you want to talk about transportation, I will think about pollution or driving while fatigued or diabetics driving trucks.”

She notes that Kaiser Permanente combines EHR data with public and commercial data sets to do different kinds of hot-spotting and analyses that are geospatial, such as working on required community health need assessments. Kaiser is also trying to figure out where people with chronic conditions live, and it compares that data with other data about the communities and neighborhoods they live in.