An innovative international project will use cutting-edge geospatial mapping to better target health services to those who need them most.

This project will allow health providers to understand clearly the social and built environmental contexts in which people live, how these and other factors shape their lifestyles and impact on their health, and the availability and accessibility of healthcare suited to their needs.

The three-year, $2 million project to develop a comprehensive, real-time Health Atlas is a collaboration between Australia’s Digital Health Co-operative Research Centre (Digital Health CRC), HMS of the USA, and the University of Canberra’s Health Research Institute.

CEO of the Digital Health CRC, Dr Victor Pantano, said: “This project has real potential to help deliver better access to care for millions of people across the USA, Australia and other countries.”“Understanding where people live, what social and built environment factors impact on their health, and where they access health services, is critical in determining where health services should be located and where scarce healthcare resources are most effectively allocated.”

“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. 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: “The Health Atlas we develop will enable the better targeting and evaluation of more personalised healthcare.”

“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?”

“The Health Atlas will provide a set of social, built and physical environmental variables that can be attached to Medicaid (USA) claims and costs data – 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.”

Vice President of HMS, Donna Price, said: “By leveraging the Health Atlas, Medicaid agencies would now have the ability to visualise data about their customers, and address specific questions such as ‘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?’”

“Examples of these social determinant variables include the accessibility and availability of primary care centres, clinics and hospitals, public open spaces and parks, healthful and unhealthful food outlets, and exercise facilities; as well as other factors like dwelling and population density, housing mix, land use, commercial density, public transportation, walkability and climatic conditions.”

“This project has enormous potential to take healthcare delivery to the next level. We are very excited to be involved.”

In line with Digital Health CRC’s role and commitment to build capacity in Australia’s future digital health workforce, a post-doctoral researcher will also be embedded within the project team.

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