For years, providers have used GIS software to map disease outbreaks and monitor the effectiveness of interventions. Now, with the push for accountable care, it’s proving to be a valuable tool in population health efforts.
GIS — short for geographic information system — is software that is capable of capturing, storing, analyzing, and displaying geographically referenced data.
While global health organizations and public health agencies have long used it for population health purposes, its use in the private sector has mostly been limited to strategic planning and marketing. But that’s starting to change as hospitals take on more risk for health outcomes and cost.
Why GIS use is rising
As the move to accountable care and value-based payments takes hold, providers and health plans are increasingly interested in applying GIS to assess risk based on geography and the populations that live there, reveal where the greatest need is, and prioritize areas for interventions.
EHRs alone don’t tell the whole story to mitigate those risks. Providers need to understand what’s driving peoples’ health, and much of that stems from their community.
Big data power users
Big data can be used to identify “hot spot” buildings where large numbers of high-need, high-cost individuals live. By using data from hospital claims, this can help to cut emergency room use and hospital stays.
Over the years, a variety of geographic approaches has been tried.
A More holistic data framework is now being used that spans health and social services linking individuals’ education, housing, and criminal justice record to their use of healthcare.
Administrative data can play a huge role in advancing the shift to accountable care and value-based payment. The financial history of what got us to this point and can help us understand where we went wrong and who is likely to have adverse events in the future.
One example is using GIS to create successful interventions that reduce unnecessary readmissions and promote health behavior with a focus on transitional care. Discharged patients have historically had trouble maintaining their health and wind up back in the hospital.
By creating an interactive map, patients will have access to find community resources near their home that will help them stay healthy and avoid recurrent hospitalization.
The mighty strength of GIS
The value of GIS is that it provides context to geographic data that would otherwise just be a value in a database. The key to making this data actionable is to uncover the relationships and patterns that traditional healthcare IT systems can’t detect.