What is GIS? It's a way to map information that often provides new insights. Image Courtesy of the CDC.

Big Data, High Tech Maps Give Health Care Providers New Insights

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

A recently published study demonstrates the power of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to help determine if resources are getting to the areas of most need.

The study, published in Journal of Aging and Health, combined GIS, clinical data from hospitals in Texas, and other geospatial data to paint a more comprehensive picture than is typically shown about how assets are distributed relative to need. Samuel Towne, an assistant professor of Health Management and Informatics at the University of Central Florida, led the study.

The approach is an example of combing big data with other tools that can give practitioners information to improve the delivery of products or services. In this case, the results could help agencies keep older adults who are more prone to falls safer by providing prevention education in the right places.

The study looked at one particular resource — an evidence-based fall prevention program — to identify whether it was reaching areas with highest needs, which can be defined in many ways. The study authors looked at a variety of factors including areas with a high rate of fall-related hospitalizations among older adults.

The researchers believe state government agencies can build upon this model to explore these and other areas of interest through asset mapping relative to need.

“This study has the potential to serve as a model for both continued evaluation within and across states and to provide critical and actionalable information to stakeholders associated with program planning for older adults both locally and statewide,” Towne says.

The collaboration among academia, individuals affiliated with hospital systems, and aging services providers which facilitate many critical evidence-based programs to older adults in the community made the research possible.

Other members of the research team include: Matthew Lee Smith, Minjie Xu, Yajuan Li and Marcia G. Ory of Texas A&M University, Sungmin Lee from the University of Conneticut, Sushma Sharma from the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council Foundation, Don Smith from the United Way of Tarrant County and Yasmin Fucci from Florida Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Towne joined UCF in 2018 and is part of the university’s Disability, Aging, and Technology Faculty Cluster. He has multiple degrees including a doctorate in health services policy and management from the University of South Carolina. He also holds affiliations with Texas A&M University.

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