Transforming The Field of Healthcare with Geospatial Technology
Globally, health systems have been struggling to manage the rise in population levels, under and malnutrition, and the rising prevalence of chronic diseases and metabolic disorders. The challenges heightened even further in the wake of the global pandemic.
Given the unpredictable future challenges facing healthcare, the entire ecosystem needs a strategic, time-bound restrengthening. Advanced technologies have already made their way into healthcare in the past few years. It is time to start leveraging Geospatial technology in tandem with these advanced technologies for the most effective outcomes.
The Spatial Dimensions of Healthcare
The field of healthcare has both spatial and temporal dimensions, considering the dynamics and transmission of diseases, distribution of facilities, and attraction towards private facilities – all have a critical geographic component to them.
In this light, the development and utilization of geographic information and mapping technologies have paved the way for better planning, analysis, monitoring, and management of health systems on the one hand, and improved marketing and customer acquisition for private healthcare facilities on the other.
Learning from the Pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Geospatial technology proved a formidable tool for streamlining immediate, short-term, and long-term strategies. One, governments and healthcare organizations around the world used geo-coded contact tracing to monitor and curb viral spread by mapping transmission patterns.
The alterations or ‘mutations’ that the virus exhibited over time were mapped geographically and linked with the demography of the place to analyse vaccine constituency from one region to another.
The commitment to global inclusivity for vaccine delivery is another area where Geospatial technology offered active support. Researchers, governments, private sector companies, NGOs, and the World Health Organization are together leveraging GIS-based digital micro-plans to ensure the global reach of vaccines, among other resources.
Multiple layers of data including health facility locations, population distribution, community- and geography-wise coverage gaps, and demographical information, visualised and analysed on a single platform are the foundations of these micro-plans. Sourced from satellite images, drone maps, crowdsourced data, and so on, these micro plans help make efficient resource distribution possible, including the deployment of mobile health clinics and facilities for remote, vulnerable populations.
Geospatial data also proved critical in deriving insights for identifying high-risk areas, health worker distribution, travel times to facilities, cumulative incidence, and fatality rates, etc. Decision-makers were able to use such data to plan responses and measure progress.
Major Application Areas of Geospatial for Health and Healthcare
Understanding Geography-Disease Correlations
Remote sensing data analysis offers useful knowledge on changes to the Earth’s surface, including variations in land cover, sea surface, temperatures, and climatic characteristics, which are shown to be correlated with specific diseases.
Satellite and drone data, on the other hand, can locate places with stagnant water where dengue and malaria may spread. For inclusive healthcare facility distribution and immunisation programmes, researchers can evaluate historically “invisible” communities such as nomadic tribes, remote populations, and people living in conflict zones.
Assessing Health Trends and Patterns
An emerging field called health geoinformatics employs geospatial technologies to research health-related topics. GIS enables the analysis and display of complex data to find patterns that the interpreter may not have noticed right away.
With the prevalence of chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease on the rise, GIS may offer a way for healthcare professionals to systematically address those locations on priority where diseases are more likely to occur or already have, and to start proactively implementing preventive measures and/or staffing healthcare facilities with professionals trained in medical specialities.
Detection and Tracking Capabilities
The potential for combining geospatial technology with advanced sensors, IoT, cloud, mobile, and big data technologies has rapidly increased in recent years. This has enabled tracking the spread of illnesses like Ebola and COVID-19 as well as immunization drives in recent years. Multiple data layers can then be visualized using GIS dashboards to assist decision-makers
A special mention should be made of wearable technology, which has created new opportunities for communication between patients and physicians. Once equipped with location capabilities, they can be used to monitor and track patients with memory loss or disorientation, such as those with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and autism.
The landscape for healthcare predictive analytics is shifting as more businesses learn how to exploit Big Data and put in place the proper infrastructure for producing useful insights from a variety of new sources. GIS analysis and the resulting knowledge it produces are crucial in this regard.
It is possible to examine the risk factors and illness susceptibility that vary from one region or community to another to create algorithms that can anticipate disease outbreaks and their results in advance. Even social media posts that have been geotagged offer abundant data for analysis and the forecasting of impending health issues.
For instance, Canada’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) was able to foresee the SARS outbreak in 2004 much earlier than the World Health Organization by monitoring and examining media resources.
Besides, electronic health records (EHRs) used by practitioners in industrialised countries can act as a wealth of information available about the population. Since a large part of this data is geo-referenced, it can be used to personalise interventions. For instance, Geo-medicine can unveil the types of environmental risks patients confront, surrounding healthcare institutions, and accessibility to green spaces or grocery stores by including a patient’s place history in their medical records. Then, cutting-edge GeoAI algorithms can be created to spot people at risk of admission or readmission, poor health outcomes at the community level, and more.
Equitable Access to Essential Health Services
Through analysis of patient demographic information, geospatial technology can assist in identifying which neighbourhoods have a greater need for particular health services, such as rehab or senior care facilities. For analysis, response, and planning in the event of disease outbreaks, immunisation programmes, and healthcare facility distribution, rural and indigenous communities can be considered using geospatial analytics.
Site Analysis and Need Assessment
Geospatial technology allows locating and mapping areas with and without pharmacies, community clinics, schools, or hospitals. This data can then be compared to statistics showing the concentration of people with chronic illnesses or health issues, such as cancer, diabetes, heart failure, mental health conditions, respiratory ailments, and asthma. Visual representations of these superimposed layers can then be drawn up to help hospitals understand where and how to expand their network
In order to assist hospitals and clinics with effective marketing and advertising, GIS can be used to assess the market share of hospitals, patient demographics and type, routes and transport options for target audiences, and other information.
Using wireless sensors and technologies enables the detection of crises, more effective vehicular routing, and detailed knowledge about neighbouring hospitals to treat patients right away. Before the patient even realises there is a problem, emergency professionals can be sent in, thanks to intelligent medical devices.
For example, asthma and allergy patients can use smartphone applications that map their symptoms in real-time with pollen and air quality in their surroundings to provide alerts in high-risk situations. GeoAI algorithms can monitor an addiction patient’s texts, sleep history, location, email activity, and language to anticipate when they are at risk of relapsing, and treatment teams connected to them can be informed in time. To identify and notify emergency personnel in the event of an overdose, the user’s breathing patterns can be watched.
Remote Monitoring and Telemedicine
A wide range of applications for real-time patient monitoring employing wearables, implants, drug sensors, and telemedicine have emerged because of the proliferation of IoT in healthcare, producing recurring warnings and notifications. Smart sensors built into in-home medical equipment have made it possible to watch patients remotely and keep them safe and healthy while also enhancing how doctors provide treatment. Geospatial and IoT are used in conjunction for inventory management as well as ongoing remote monitoring of patients with chronic illnesses.
Healthcare Staff Management
Location analytics has replaced manual record keeping and spreadsheets to collect demand information for escalating services as and when required. For a better understanding of the number of cases, the typical waiting time, or the mode of transportation with respect to timeframes, all information is visualised as a hotspot analysis with KPI reporting. This enables better resourcing methods, keeping in mind the higher demand on specific days of the week, to bring in more clinical support professionals and relieve resource pressure.
At the same time, geospatial technologies also find application in securing authorized entry/exit of healthcare staff based on area restrictions, automation of access records, tracking movement and deployment of hospital staff, especially in emergency scenarios, and so on.
Other Application Areas of Geospatial Technology in Healthcare
- Health policy research: region-wise data inputs to grasp needs, expectations, existing infrastructure, and evolving needs
- Health insurance: location-based analysis for outreach, marketing, agent allocation, monitoring, and collection
- Epidemic incidence modelling and forecasting: GeoAI algorithms based on previous and existing trends layered with other key information
- Estate Management and Asset Optimization: Easy-to-use mobile apps and 3D digital twins have replaced paper-based data collection and 2D floor plans respectively, resulting in improved visibility of assets, efficient routing of resources, and accurate tracking for informed decision making.
The ‘Healthy’ Way Forward
Cities are acquiring, creating, and consuming vast amounts of data as they move toward becoming “smart,” and interconnected. Much of this data may be tied to health and the environment and needs to be leveraged actively. Using Geospatial technology to make sense of this data through sophisticated, location-based data analytics can greatly benefit governments, healthcare providers, and consumers at the same time.
The need for geospatial and location information and technologies in the health industry has now been clearly demonstrated by COVID-19. And yet, there is a lot that Geospatial technology can do to transform the healthcare industry.
In the wake of the Geospatial Guidelines being published, which made it easier to acquire, process, and publish geospatial data, we now need more partnerships between businesses, governments, and innovators to develop creative, solution-focused use cases.
Additionally, there is a growing need for modernising and standardising our data systems, right from the local government and hospital level upwards, so that they can facilitate data exchange when necessary. Only an up-to-date, well-funded, and data-driven public health system in India can enable quicker and more effective responses to ensure that everyone in the nation has access to quality healthcare.