GIS Technology Helps Health Care Industry Save Lives

American Sentinel University has identified four ways GIS is improving the health care industry and why the need for GIS professionals will be even greater as organizations harness the data integration and spatial visualization power of GIS.

Press Release

AURORA, Colo. – November 7, 2011 – The health care industry is using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to save lives.

By analyzing geographical health care data, public health and hospital officials are able to make better decisions for patients, increase accessibility to services and prevent future disease outbreaks.

American Sentinel University has identified four ways GIS is improving the health care industry.

Interactive Mapping
The health care industry has long mapped events for epidemiological research. But now with GIS technology, hospitals can map where their patients are coming from and the most prevalent disease processes and procedures. GIS plays a crucial role in tracking diseases and contagions so governments can better track and respond to outbreaks.

“GIS allows for greater understanding of the spread of geological phenomena, including the spread and clustering of contagious diseases,” says Gabriel Schmidbauer, GIS professor at American Sentinel University. “This greater understanding will increase the efficiency of resource allocation within the health care system.”

For example, Wellcome Trust scientists working in Kathmandu, Nepal, have recently mapped the spread of typhoid and traced its source. Research was done by combining DNA sequencing technology and GPS signaling data and then mapping it out on Google Earth™ mapping service.

“Until now, it has been extremely difficult to study how organisms such as the typhoid-causing bacteria evolve and spread at a local level,” says Dr. Stephen Baker from the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam in a press release issued by Wellcome Trust. “Without this information, our ability to understand the transmission of these diseases has been significantly hampered. Now, advances in technology have allowed us for the first time to create accurate geographical and genetic maps of the spread of typhoid and trace it back to its sources.”

In Australia, GIS technology helped researchers determine that rural women are more at risk for obesity and diabetes, while the United States, CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) uses GIS to track everything from suicide hotbed areas to exposure to chemicals.

In fact, the CDC regularly uses GIS in data collection, mapping and communication to respond to national crisis, including the World Trade Center collapse, Hurricane Katrina, Avian flu, SARS and Rift Valley Fever.

But, GIS is used for much more than just emergency response or tracking disasters.

According to Esri®, which has more than 5,000 health care clients worldwide, GIS plays a critical role in determining where and when to intervene, improving the quality of care, increasing accessibility of service, finding more cost-effective delivery modes and preserving patient confidentiality while satisfying the needs of the research community for data accessibility.

Nursing Case Management
Kathy K. Wright, MSN, RN, C-PNP, assistant professor, nursing at American Sentinel University says using GIS for public health and nursing case management can be a tremendous asset to the community.

Through the use of GIS, a nurse case manager can see where the community resources are in proximity to their patients such as therapy providers, home health agencies and pharmacies. This information is beneficial for patients in rural locations who need care and for a community to access the need for expanding resources or seeing where there is a need for a certain resource they might lack.

The use of GIS technology can actively address disparities in access to health care. And GIS tools can grant health care resources to more of the community without exhausting public resources.

Human Resources for Nursing
The nursing shortage has been well documented, but traditional HR routes don’t always work to find good nurses. That’s why Stanford University Medical Center used GIS to analyze the nurse population density of various geographic areas.

“Recruiters have had hunches for decades about which features – such as pay, shift, and location – would be attractive to nurses,” says David Schutt, who handles human resources workforce planning and analytics for Stanford University Medical Center. “GIS analysis has once and for all laid the location controversy to rest. We found that the nurse comfort zone for Stanford University Medical Center is about a 12-mile radius. Looked at another way, this is also a retention factor.”

Since practically every external clinical professional at any hospital must be state-licensed and registered, Schutt says it is easy to map the geographic location of nurses. GIS analysis and mapping of this external data, combined with internal human resources workforce data, provides an overview of the hospital nursing supply and demand, as well as employee commute patterns and distance traveled to work.

This knowledge helps anticipate and mitigate potential interruptions to continuity of care to avoid the astronomical costs associated with hiring and training replacements, Schutt said. “Because of GIS analysis, we can potentially free up approximately $22.5 million over the next two years that would otherwise be spent on replacement and training costs,” he says.

In its free Geomedicine e-book, ‘Geomedicine: Can Geographic Information Make Me Healthy,’ Esri notes that patients benefit from a more precise clinical understanding of the links between their health and where they live, work and play and found that there is currently little health-relevant geographical information available to the clinician.

But, that is changing.

The e-book’s author, Bill Davenhall, is the global manager of Esri’s Health and Human Solutions Group and is one of the leading advocates for the use of GIS to help solve the challenges in health and human services, argues that geographical information will help clinicians better understand their patients just as they look for predispositions to diseases.

“Geographic place will provide the context within which the clinician can assess environmental factors and make judgments about diagnosis, treatment and prognosis,” says Davenhall. “Geomedicine has the potential to transform the way physicians see patients and the potential to provide a more holistic view of the many hidden factors that often defeat achieving successful long-term health outcomes.”

GIS technology offers tremendous potential to benefit the health care industry and its many uses are is just now beginning to be realized. The need for GIS professionals will be even greater as organizations develop innovative ways to harness the data integration and spatial visualization power of GIS.

“As health care becomes more digitized, GIS professionals will play a more vitally important tool in understanding the health care provision,” says Schmidbauer.

American Sentinel is one of the few higher education institutions to offer two undergraduate GIS degrees, not just certificates, which have been offered for more than four years. The university’s GIS associate and bachelor’s programs teach students to strategically analyze data with GIS technology to uncover patterns, trends and relationships. The programs emphasize problem solving and creating solutions to real world business and human-based challenges.

Learn More About American Sentinel University’s GIS and Health Care Degrees
American Sentinel’s programs prepare students for entry into the GIS field and provide training in information systems that benefit other business areas. Learn more about American Sentinel University’s GIS degrees at

Learn more about American Sentinel’s IT distance education programs at

Learn more about American Sentinel’s accredited online nursing degrees at

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About American Sentinel University
American Sentinel University delivers the competitive advantages of accredited Associate, Bachelor’s and Master’s online degree programs focused on the needs of high-growth sectors, including information technology, computer science, GIS, computer information systems and business intelligence degrees. The university is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency and is a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Lauren from Doctor4u, an online doctor prescription site, said: “The impact of technology on healthcare is becoming more and more important in modern society, with innovative imporvements becoming evident in all areas of healthcare.”