Towards evidence-based, GIS-driven national spatial health information infrastructure and surveillance services in the United Kingdom
International Journal of Health Geographics
The term "Geographic Information Systems" (GIS) has been added to MeSH in 2003, a step reflecting the importance and growing use of GIS in health and healthcare research and practices. GIS have much more to offer than the obvious digital cartography (map) functions. From a community health perspective, GIS could potentially act as powerful evidence-based practice tools for early problem detection and solving. When properly used, GIS can: inform and educate (professionals and the public);
... decision-making at all levels; help in planning and tweaking clinically and cost-effective actions, in predicting outcomes before making any financial commitments and ascribing priorities in a climate of finite resources; change practices; and continually monitor and analyse changes, as well as sentinel events. Yet despite all these potentials for GIS, they remain under-utilised in the UK National Health Service (NHS). This paper has the following objectives: (1) to illustrate with practical, real-world scenarios and examples from the literature the different GIS methods and uses to improve community health and healthcare practices, e.g., for improving hospital bed availability, in community health and bioterrorism surveillance services, and in the latest SARS outbreak; (2) to discuss challenges and problems currently hindering the wide-scale adoption of GIS across the NHS; and (3) to identify the most important requirements and ingredients for addressing these challenges, and realising GIS potential within the NHS, guided by related initiatives worldwide. The ultimate goal is to illuminate the road towards implementing a comprehensive national, multi-agency spatio-temporal health information infrastructure functioning proactively in real time. The concepts and principles presented in this paper can be also applied in other countries, and on regional (e.g., European Union) and global levels.