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GIS – an imperative tool for healthcare planning

“We have enough water, enough food, enough money; we have enough of everything except the ability to agree and move forward.” – Abdul Kalam, former President of India.
During the past decade, Geographic Information System (GIS) applications have tended to focus upon eight major models: agricultural, climate impact, health, parasitology, pesticide, pollution, waste management and wildlife management. Health topics addressed in a GIS format included: commuter safety, environmental health decisions, health data maps, mapping of health service providers, population growth, disease cluster identification, geographic access to healthcare and geographic epidemiology. While GIS studies in health have been varied and innovative, they also have tended to be inconsistent, especially in their application to and maintenance of regional needs in healthcare planning.
Healthcare Planning and GIS are two relevant fields that depend upon spatial data. Healthcare facilities at any region can be divided into two main types such as primary health centers and hospitals and location of health facilities, patient distribution and characteristics are example of spatial data analysis that is dealt with during local health planning. Health planners use spatial data to monitor and evaluate health services on local areas such task can be better made using different GIS functions and models. Health authorities have always aimed to provide health care for all residents using a fair access policy that is characterized as providing the right service at the right time in the right place.
The area of GIS and healthcare has risen to prominence in the past 10 – 15 years with the recognition that health surveillance practices and health service allocations need to become more sensitive to the needs of people in local geographic areas. The collection, storage and manipulation of geographic information have undergone a revolution in recent years with the development and wide spread availability of GIS softwares. Today, many healthcare administrators and planners can benefit from education and training in the GIS field and this will give them the chance of influencing the advancement of health surveillance, environmental health assessment and the geographic allocation of health resources.
The GIS has also continued to be used in public health for epidemiological studies via tracking the sources of disease and the movements of contagions, agencies can respond more effectively to out breaks of disease by identifying at risk populations and targeting intervention. Public Health use of GIS includes tracking child immunizations, conducting health policy research; and establishing service areas and districts. Today, many health authorities have implemented health management and information systems to manage their different tasks. These systems can be used with the GIS to have a complete health information system that should contain the following elements:
Environmental, socio-economic and other risk factors, which influence health, under serviced, poor, inaccessible areas and other geographic and demographic factors.
•    Perceived health problems with incidence rates.
•    Population sub groups with specific health problems, health needs and demand.
•    Health services directed at health problems or risk factors for all or part of the population.
•    Health care inputs, e.g. staff, funds, capital resources, medicines and equipment used etc.
•    Health care outputs, e.g. number of client contacts, proportion of population reached for particular programmes and proportions of target population reached.
•    Health care outcomes e.g. change in health status as a result of intervention of health care programs.
Information technologies have provided the means for integrating and analyzing diverse data sources in a spatial-temporal context. This approach supports the development of predictive models and timely intervention. Online media capabilities and the increasing number of application portals provide opportunities for governments, healthcare organizations, businesses, and individuals to devise creative solutions to persistent health problems of individuals, communities, nations, and the world.
The realities of differing socioeconomic, educational, cultural, health, and medical care system, must provide the contextual basis for assessing the potential benefits that can be realistically achieved through the use of information technologies. These variations apply to geographic regions and population segments in the Pakistan as they do to various developed and developing countries. Indeed, the fundamental health challenges ahead is to transform information, specifically unfiltered and widely available health information, into knowledge that can be used to promote the health and well-being of people locally and globally.
 


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