Identifying deficiencies in health and human services delivery and achieving better outcomes using geographic information system (GIS) technology were major themes during the 2009 ESRI Health GIS Conference, held September 21–23 in Nashville, Tennessee. More than 200 health and human services professionals from more than 34 states and 10 nations gathered to discuss the use of GIS technology to understand and improve public health and medical care delivery.
Conference speakers included researchers and program directors who are leaders in the use of GIS and information technology in health and human services applications, including keynote speaker David Goodman, M.D., Dartmouth Medical School professor of pediatrics and community and family medicine and coprincipal investigator of the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care.
“The science of health care delivery will provide the greatest gains in terms of improving the health and well-being of populations,” said Goodman. “Changes need to be aligned with patient preferences, developing more efficient delivery systems, and being able to use findings to generalize on ways to make our health delivery system sustainable.”
Goodman described how GIS analyses contribute by identifying the variables that correlate with better-quality health care delivery and health outcomes or, alternatively, by identifying unwarranted variations in health care delivery that reveal inefficiencies. Results provide policy makers with new kinds of information for improving health care quality and cost.
Featured speaker Kim Pemble, executive director, Wisconsin Health Information Exchange (WHIE), described the use of health information exchange networks to organize access to electronic health records and other kinds of health data. “Exchanges provide a way for health professionals to have real-time communication about a patient, regardless of where the encounter occurred, which ultimately helps improve the care for the patient.” Pemble added, “Geography is of paramount importance to how we are thinking about health care delivery into the future. The primary goal of a health information exchange is to improve patient outcomes in a clinical encounter. In the case of WHIE, because we have this data centralized, we know about encounters that are occurring in a broad geography, so it is also a tremendously useful tool for public health surveillance purposes in that it provides them [health professionals] with strictly de-identified data.”
Focused on improving the lives of children in Alabama by connecting communities with information, featured speaker Chris McInnish, Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs liaison to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, is using GIS technology to support the Alabama Resource Management System (ARMS). In his presentation, McInnish described how ARMS, based on ESRI’s ArcGIS Server, gives online access to 109,000 layers of information ranging from demographic and juvenile crime data to state statistics relevant to child services. Its innovative dashboard viewer gives state legislators and community partners focused access and easy tools for viewing the data in graphs, maps, or reports. McInnish concluded, “We are teaching our decision makers to think spatially.”
Other highlights of the conference included focused seminars, technical presentations addressing ESRI software innovations, 60 professional scientific paper presentations, a hands-on GIS software learning center, and the biannual meeting of the ESRI Health User Group (HUG).
In the closing session, Stephanie Bailey, M.D., chief of public health practice, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “All the data is in, but how do we analyze it?” Bailey recognized GIS as a technology that, through exploration of spatial relationships, promotes understanding that can help in the alignment of health indicators with health resources and help public health organizations take actions that protect the public they serve.
ESRI software is used by all 50 U.S. state health departments, 97 national health ministries, the World Health Organization, and more than 350 hospitals and medical centers worldwide. For more information on the conference, visit www.esri.com/healthgis.