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PDA Award: Health and Geography in Context

By Carolyn K. Bridgewater, MLIS, MSW, AHIP,Reference/Outreach Librarian, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Library (LSUHSC), New Orleans, LA

The NN/LM SCR Professional Development Award provided me with the opportunity to attend the 2007 Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) Health Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Conference: Understanding the Power of Place, October 7-10th, in Scottsdale, AZ.

Overall, three issues prevailed at ESRI Health GIS conference and relevant to health sciences libraries and/or health information outreach: funding, protecting privacy and confidentiality, and new technologies and trends.

Librarians are constantly searching for ways to secure funding for potential projects. Constructive tips shared to participants: convey a “compelling story” and use visual maps when making the case in all phases of the grant writing process, whether it is defining the problem, determining where to focus efforts or communicating to your target audience.1. In addition, participants were informed of ESRI’s Grants Assistance Program (GAP). GAP assists GIS users in locating funding for projects. Anyone may participate but must plan to use GIS in their project. Surprisingly, this service is free of charge.

Privacy and Confidentiality
In the Health GIS community, privacy and confidentiality issues arise when spatial data on research participants – such as the locations of their homes or workplaces – can be linked with confidential personal information. The National Research Council’s report, Putting People on the Map: Protecting Confidentiality with Linked Social-Spatial Data was summarized. Some methods discussed to reduce the risk of participant identification: withhold some part of the data; statistically alter the data in ways that will not compromise secondary analyses but still protect individual participants’ identities (masking); and restrict access to the data at a controlled site (data enclave).2.

Technologies and Trends
Innovative GIS tools and resources highlighted:

Community Health Status Indicators GIS Analyst (CHSI)
This project is forthcoming and will be an online, searchable GIS database which will enable users to employ maps and graphs to visualize community health status based upon county (parish) level data, identify high-risk health areas and much more. Several partners are involved: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) and National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), National Library of Medicine (NLM), Public Health Foundation, National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) and others.3.

HealthLandscape is a user-friendly mapping tool allowing health care professionals, researchers, planners and others to combine, analyze and display information to increase knowledge and improve the quality of health and healthcare. This collaborative effort is among the University of Cincinnati, Robert Graham Center, Greater Cincinnati Health Foundation and the American Academy of Family Physicians.4.

CDC’s GIS and Public Health
This website is designed specifically to increase the user’s knowledge of geographic relationships that affect health related outcomes, disease transmission, access and barriers to quality health care and other community health challenges.5.

In summary, the ESRI Health GIS conference was very informative and well organized. In 2004 the NN/LM SCR asked Network members what classes they want developed by the Regional Medical Library (RML). The results revealed that Network members were unaware of GIS technology and its implications to effect change in their current settings.6. Based upon this and the knowledge gained form the Health GIS conference, I intend to develop a beginner’s GIS application class geared for health sciences libraries and/or health information outreach at a later date. Librarians play a key role in educating its public of new technologies. GIS applications are an essential tool for mapping patterns of health, morbidity and mortality. For instance, in health sciences libraries, knowing about GIS applications will assist librarians in teaching faculty and students how GIS data is advantageous in solving health-related problems. Linking a patient’s health status to specific geospatial factors (e.g., where patients live, work and play) can become yet another set of explicit, visible information that health care professionals use in making decisions about the care of individual patients.7.

This project has been funded in whole or in part with federal funds from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Contract No. N01-LM-6-3505.

1. 2007 ESRI Health GIS Conference, 2. Retrieved October 12, 2007 from

2. Ib. at 28.
3. Ib. at 21.
4. Ib. at 27.
5. Ib. at 28.
6. NN/LM, SCR Educational Needs Questionnaire Results. Retrieved October 17, 2007, from

7. Davenhall, B. (2007, March 3). Spatial Medicine to Better Health. Geospatial Today. Retrieved October 16, 2007, from
: 2007-03-03: 1705kb

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