It’s no secret that Big Data has, and will continue to play a large role in advancing healthcare. The next big leap in healthcare is figuring out how to make sense of all of our data, and switching to a healthcare system that is based on predictability. Pairing Big Data with GIS is one path to predicting and potentially controlling future illnesses and diseases.  Ultimately, it should also help to create a better healthcare system.

What is GIS?

GIS refers to a Geographic Information System that combines hardware, software, and data for the purpose of making sense of location based data. A true GIS system contains everything needed for capturing, storing, and analyzing geographical data.

Why is GIS Important?

GIS makes it possible to better visualize, and explain data across different geographical areas, revealing trends, relationships, and patterns based on location.

Almost all of the data captured today has a location component. Some information, particularly health-related, can vary greatly based on the geographical location. Different locales have different variables such as population, climate, culture, etc.. GIS allows us to look past the differences, and to find the common relationships and patterns.

Healthcare Surveillance with GIS

Applying GIS to healthcare surveillance can reveal previously hidden information that can change the future and save lives. GIS can open the door to important cost-effective, and life-saving interventions in healthcare. These life saving interventions are possible after scientists use GIS to find and map the geographical span of an illness, and the location-based variables that are directly linked to the spread or root cause. Around the world, scientists have had great success with using GIS to examine the causes and trends of certain diseases.

In 2004, a team of biologists teamed up with geographers to find a new way to track a rodent-borne virus in Utah. The biologists needed to track mice and figure out when to expect an increase in the number of carriers of the rodent-borne virus. The team of researchers began studying satellite images of the area to spot variations in vegetation on the ground. The reason behind tracking vegetation was simple: more greenery means additional food for the mice, which leads to an increase in mice, and more carriers of the virus in question.

The researchers combined satellite imagery with data from mice that they had captured over three years. Through combining all of their location based data and embracing the principles of GIS, they were able to see that an increase in vegetation led to an illness-causing growth in the population of mice 12-16 months later. Without GIS, making such a discovery would have been extremely unlikely.

Recently, Google created a system called “Flu Trends” that makes use of Google’s enormous amount of search data. Flu Trends looks at certain search queries that indicate influenza activity and creates a map of these searches. Health Officials around the country have begun using Flu Trend’s location based data in conjunction with other reports to predict and better understand influenza outbreaks. It really is incredible what GIS can do for healthcare in association with Big Data.

At Offspring Solutions we have considerable experience in the areas of Big Data, GIS, and Health IT. We have highly talented staff who are capable of finding valuable, hidden meanings in your organization’s data. Our team takes pride in our ability to work with a variety of organizations to help modernize, maximize, and prepare for a better future. To see how Offspring Solutions can improve your organization through the use of Big Data analytics or GIS, give us a call today at (703) 227-7752.

Creative Commons image courtesy of stock.xcng

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