Australia’s Digital Health Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) has begun developing a real-time geospatial analytics tool illustrating the links between supply and demand in different geographies.
The three-year, $2 million Health Atlas project is a collaboration between the CRC, the University of Canberra’s Health Research Institute and US healthcare technology and analytics providers HMS.
While it won’t be ready in time to deal with the current COVID-19 crisis, the Atlas will map out the social and and built environment contexts in which healthcare consumers live and how those factors shape their lifestyles, health, and their access to healthcare that meets their needs.
CRC chief executive, Dr Victor Pantano, said having this data available in real-time is critical to determining where health services - especially scarce resources - should be located to deliver the best outcomes for patients.
“Geospatial technology can assist greatly in this regard – but despite this, health providers and funders rarely have had access to more than a report or a set of static maps that are usually not up-to-date,” Pantano said in a statement.
“Our project aims to better utilise real-time geospatial technology to change this.”
Research lead for the University of Canberra;s Health Research Institute, professor Mark Daniel said that the Health Atlas will also drive healthcare personalisation efforts.
“It will use geospatial technology to map with more precision where people live and the contexts of their local environments – for example, how far must they travel for specialist care, what is the availability of family doctors, how much green space is available to them to exercise and participate in recreation, and how many fast-food outlets versus green-grocers are close to their home?”
Daniel added that variables covering social, built and physical environments can also be added for analysis in conjunction with government initiatives like Medicaid claims and cost data in the US - “relating where health consumers live to where they access health services, and identifying important factors that influence common differentials between potential and realised access to care.”
“Our project will focus primarily on the chronic diseases associated with lifestyle risk factors – including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, and lifestyle-related cancers.”
Social variables covered in the Health Atlas include the accessibility and availability of primary care centres, clinics and hospitals, public open spaces and parks, the mix of healthy and less healthy food outlets, and exercise facilities.
Other factors like dwelling and population density, housing mix, land use, commercial density, public transportation, walkability and climatic conditions will also be analysed.
Continuing with the example of US Medicaid, HMS vice president Donna Price said agencies could use the Health Atlas to address specific questions, like “‘where is the largest gap between the demand and supply of mental health services for this subset of the population’ or ‘how much is geographic variation impacting our health outcomes?’”
Pantano added that on top of its applicability in the US and Australia, the Health Atlas could be readily adapted to other healthcare markets.