Using Technology to Implement Health Solutions
Although we have come a long way in our healthcare abilities as a population, there are still a variety of serious diseases that are contributing to health problems across the globe on a large scale. Many of these diseases are preventable or could be eased with more development if there were funding for it.
Luckily, recent advances in technology are making a powerful impact in how healthcare providers are able to address many of these perilous issues. The rise of technology as a healthcare tool has played a serious role in lowering costs and making it possible for many to receive appropriate medical attention. Medical apps that work with mobile devices, outbreak information, and tools for staying healthy have all become available through technology and have made it distinctly easier to implement solutions into infected communities.
The underlying technological achievement to the vast majority of these new innovations lies with the development of geographical information systems (GIS). GIS is a mapping technology that enables healthcare providers to collect data in a large database and then view it visually in map form. It has played a massive role in enhancing public health because it allows epidemiologists to visualize trends associated with the spread of the given disease and predict where it is likely to proliferate.
The HIV/AIDS Epidemic
The use of geographic information systems has been significant in monitoring the worldwide state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Primarily, the system has been used to track the rate of occurrences of the disease and to determine where they are happening most frequently. GIS is also capable of tracking the age, race, and sexual orientation of those infected by the area in which they live. Collecting these types of information has enabled disease specialists and primary care physicians alike to determine what factors are contributing to the outbreak and how best to address it.
For instance the aid organization, InSTEDD, has had access to this information and has been able to determine that in Southeastern Asia one of the largest problems is an inability to make it to appointments. Because of this knowledge, professionals were able to implement a strategy that promoted home-based care visits and reminded others of scheduled appointments. This has played a prominent role in reducing the number of patients that have dropped out of treatment in the locality.
According to the organization the greatest goal is to “focus on addressing life-threatening gaps in communication and knowledge sharing… [using] the strategic implementation of health information systems and collaboration technology ventures”
GIS technology has also been used effectively in mapping the cholera outbreak that has plagued the island nation of Haiti. By collecting patient data and locations, doctors have been able to locate dangerous sources of water and educate the public about the risks associated with using it for personal needs. Unfortunately, the severe lack of infrastructure in the country has resulted in limited options for differing water sources.
However, by using the geographic information system technology, disease specialists have been able to utilize resources more efficiently and enable them to be stretched just that much farther. Even with the lack of infrastructure that allows for complete eradication of the problem, doctors have been able to make significant headway and the number of patients is reportedly decreasing yearly.
Particularly within developed countries such as the United States, chronic disease is on the rise. Again, GIS mapping software has allowed health care professionals to visualize data and link potential causes – and thereby solutions – in a more efficient manner. Questions such as ‘are all patients living near a particular chemical plant’ or ‘are patients all farther than five miles from a source of fresh fruits and vegetables’ can all be answered using the database.
One example of where this has been used effectively is through The University of Southern California’s development of the Cancer Surveillance Program. The program is essentially a large database from which doctors can enter patient health and demographic data for all new cancer patients. According to department leaders, it is one of the “most productive cancer registries in the world in terms of scientific contributions toward understanding the demographic patterns and the etiology of specific cancers.”
The process is highly effective in that it enables doctors from differing scopes of practice or differing hospitals to access the same information related to trends in cancer patient care. This has led to greater collaboration between institutions and a higher quality of treatment for patients.
The use of geographic information system technology as an aid in healthcare is a significant benefit to both doctors and patients. It has enabled cheaper, more efficient treatment strategies and has also helped to pinpoint causes and solutions to a number of these issues. Furthermore, it has served as the basis for additional technologies that have been used to really address disease spread and treatment on a deeper level.