Healthcare News & Insights

New tech helps hospitals use geographic data to improve patient care

In an era where hospitals are increasingly responsible for patient outcomes beyond their hospital stays, better use of health data is crucial. To that end, some hospitals are turning to geographic analytics.

126895695With this form of analysis, which is done with geographic information systems (GIS) software, data about patients’ conditions that’s collected via electronic health records (EHR) is sorted by geographic area.

Then the health data is reviewed along with geographic characteristics to find any correlations between patients’ health status and their location. To protect patient privacy, data is stripped of any protected health information (PHI) and analyzed without any specific identifiers.

This process allows hospitals and health systems to make targeted health interventions to various types of patients based on geographic patterns.

In the past, researchers attempted to look for similar patterns by hanging up paper maps and marking locations with pins. But with the current state of healthcare technology, this can now be done with a few computer keystrokes, which makes the process less time-consuming and more useful to hospitals.

One hospital’s results

A large children’s health system in Washington, DC has been using GIS to its advantage in treating young patients. Children’s National Medical Center took medical records data from three regional EHR systems and analyzed it with GIS technology.

Specifically, the health system studied three key areas:

  • immunizations
  • thermal burns, and
  • obesity

When breaking the statistics for these three areas down by region, researchers were able to make notable conclusions to improve patient care, which are detailed in a report from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

Example: A significant number of children who suffered burns lived in a predominately Hispanic area of the city. So the health system started distributing flyers in Spanish about burn prevention to families in the area. As a result, burn cases at the hospital started to decline.

Other uses for geographic data

Over time, GIS data can be used to prevent readmissions and keep patients from unnecessary hospital visits, two key elements of the looming value-based care payment model.

The statistics also can be used to show how certain geographic factors may be affecting patients’ health, anything from the number of primary care doctors in a region to an area’s average pollen count during allergy season. And hospitals can use that info for preventive purposes.

Forward-thinking hospital CIOs should be looking at the costs of implementing this technology and the structure needed to collect data from other hospitals and healthcare systems while avoiding HIPAA violations. GIS technology could be the next tool your hospital can use to provide top-quality patient care.

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