Maps have more to do with health care than you might think. Mapping patient data is becoming a major part of how we interpret illness and create treatment plans. Geographic information systems (GIS) is mapping software that allows users to connect data with locations. Seeing data visually displayed on a map is helpful for any number of industries, especially healthcare. Mapping occurrences of diseases and illnesses from patient demographic data gives users a whole new approach to studying medicine.
Finding Geographic Patterns
The mapping of illnesses, diseases, and other patient information lets researchers find geographic patterns in the data. As patients go about their daily lives, the geographic information of where they live, work, and visit is tracked. This information alerts researchers to problem areas. For example, if a residential area experiences an usually high number of cancer diagnoses then they can search for a cause related to the environment. This was the case for some agriculturally intensive areas in California where researchers found a link between the pesticides used by the nearby farms and prostate cancer.
Regional Treatment Plans
The mapping of patient data can also improve personalized healthcare options. GIS gives researchers the tools and information necessary to find long-term trends and patterns in the health of different demographics and regions. Especially with data from wearable technology to track heart rates, sleeping patterns and sun exposure, the possibilities for specialized treatment are innumerable.
Track Infectious Diseases
Not only can GIS be used to find existing patterns and trends, but it can also help identify areas where diseases are likely to spread next. This will help with the management of disease outbreaks by tracking where patients have been and who they may have been in contact with while contagious. For example, the 2014 outbreak of measles in Disneyland required mapping to find where the children lived and who else could be affected.
In addition to wearable tech, researchers are also able to pull geographic data from social media. In 2012, researchers used Twitter to search for hashtags related to the flu such as #flu and #influenza to plot the geographic locations of flu symptoms and outbreaks.
Mapping systems are a great way to improve how healthcare is administered to patients. With GIS systems and data collecting technology, researchers can provide sophisticated healthcare options tailored to individuals based on location. How else do you think GIS can be used to improve healthcare?