Can maps improve community health? Absolutely, according to James Martinez, who is a Population Health Analyst and GIS Specialist at the Loma Linda University Health System (LLUH).
James and his community health development team were tasked with analysing data to identify ways to better prevent illnesses and reduce the number of visits to the hospital for certain conditions, like asthma, diabetes or heart failure, which could have been treated at a much earlier stage.
This proved to be a daunting task, since the hospital serves a densely populated region made up of four counties neighbouring Los Angeles in Southern California. “Serving such a large area with a diverse population means we have a multitude of data sets to investigate. We needed to combine all this data in a meaningful way to understand where and why these illnesses were cropping up,” says James.
Prior to the current project, the available databases of community health assets were piecemeal and lacking in various ways. “The data wasn’t trustworthy. We had incomplete records that had only been filled in voluntarily. Web pages that listed places that didn’t exist anymore. Databases that included public assets, but not private health care options. We couldn’t see the full picture.”
LLUH decided to use Esri Street Map Premium, which uses HERE map data and its place-of-interest (POI) database, to create a new application that could give them a full view of how their community’s health needs were currently being served, or under-served.
The LLUH mapping application combines the hospital’s own records with publicly available US census data and comprehensive POI content from HERE, which includes medical and health-related places such as clinics, pharmacies, fitness centres, and fresh food outlets. It also includes the complete road network, public transit information and routing from HERE so that patients can get to the hospital or the closest pharmacy as quickly as possible.
“Now when a patient needs help, we can simply enter in a ZIP code and see what health facilities are available in their area,” James tells us.
The power of the application goes way beyond logistics, however. Bringing these different sources of information together on a map was transformative, says James. “It’s very different from looking at a spreadsheet. It’s faster, more engaging and more accurate.”
“We were able to uncover previously hidden correlations in the data and identify communities with the greatest health needs. For example, how areas of high poverty correlate to instances of certain illnesses and which areas lack access to basic medical care or healthy food options.”
For example, LLUH was admitting an unusually high number of children with asthma. Using the application, LLUH was able to identify which schools the majority of the children were coming from and where these schools are located. As a result of this effort, the LLUH medical director was able to utilize the mapping application to show the correlation between the locations of asthma mobile units, and display those on top of the asthma hotspots to determine if the units were properly assigned to visit the areas of higher concentration of asthma incidents and help alleviate them.
LLUH also uses the application to identify areas that don’t have adequate access to medical facilities which helps decide where to direct funding or make an application for a grant.
“This is just the start,” says James, “the application helps us ask the right questions that we can use to investigate other areas for improvement.” Practitioners in other departments at the hospital are keen to understand how maps might aid their area of work.
Refining the needs of medicine
Milton Ospina, global enterprise business development manager from HERE, worked closely with James to ensure the right data sets were reflected in the application. He observes that working with LLUH has helped refine HERE’s understanding of the needs of community health care providers.
“Our POI product managers were involved in the project from the beginning. James supplied a list of what he needed and we were able to identify what POIs we had available and which we could prioritize obtaining in the future to meet the needs of those working on developing community health mapping applications.”
Based on this feedback, we are looking to collect even more health-related POIs like adult day care centres, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies and suppliers of durable medical equipment.
To learn more about this application, visit: http://www.esri.com/Home/News/2016/Health/full-article/GIS-Helps-Loma-Linda-University