A prominent Australian medical researcher has used the region’s largest geospatial conference to back the crucial role of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology in understanding the links between health and where we reside, work and play. During her keynote address at the Ozri 2012 conference in Sydney today, Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Associate Professor Robyn Clark - who led a seven-year, national study into cardiac health - said looking at the problem from a geographic perspective helped identify significant gaps in access to cardiac care.
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“We looked at the distance to cardiac treatment centres in all of Australia’s 20,000 population centres,” Associate Professor Clark said.
“By mapping the huge amounts of statistical data we collected with GIS technology, we were able to identify critical patterns and relationships that would not have been so apparent in tabular form.
“More specifically, we were able to identify locations and groups of people with limited access to cardiac services.
“For example, we found that only 40 per cent of indigenous people reside within an hour of appropriate cardiac medical facilities and cardiac rehabilitation services, while 12 per cent of indigenous Australians live three or more hours from any kind of hospital.”
The study’s results were also used to create a cardiac health index, which ranks geographic areas according to fatal heart attack risk.
“The Cardiac Accessibility and Remoteness Index of Australia is a simple ranking system that helps governments and local communities prioritise locations in terms of risk,” Associate Professor Clark said.
Hosted by Esri Australia, the market leader in Australia’s $2.1 billion spatial industry, Ozri 2012 is the largest GIS conference in the Asia Pacific.
The event has attracted more than 500 GIS experts from Australia, the Asia Pacific and the United States – as well as a contingency of health professionals, including medical researchers, doctors, surgeons, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals.
The Royal College of Surgeons also presented at the conference, reporting on a Victorian audit of deaths of hospital patients under the care of surgeons.
The audit mapped and analysed complex patient health care information – such as hospital locations, patient ages and causes of death.
Researchers used this data to identify trends in mortality rates, including whether location-based demographic trends - including population and gender mix - impact mortality.
Esri Australia Technical Director Kellie Persson said there was a growing appetite for GIS technology in the health sector.
“GIS technology has applications at all levels of healthcare – from service provision to policy making to research,” Mrs Persson said.
"And while the technology is widely used by many of the world’s leading hospitals and medical institutions, it has been relatively underutilised in Australia until recently.
“It’s encouraging to see organisations such as the Royal College of Surgeons and QUT buck this trend and establish irrefutable evidence as to how valuable geographic insight can be in medical research.”
Ozri 2012 is running in Sydney until tomorrow – for further information visit www.esriaustralia.com.au/ozri.
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