Research Shows New Mapping System Gives Community Health Planners a New Tool

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, January 29, 2010

Contact: Leslie Champlin, American Academy of Family Physicians, (800) 274-2237, Ext. 5224

WASHINGTON, DC - Community health planners have a new tool to help them ensure that services reach the people who need them, according to two studies in the January-February issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

The studies looked at whether geographic information systems, or GIS, were viable in planning services for vulnerable populations and whether staff at community health centers could make use of GIS information in their practice management.

“To efficiently plan new clinic locations and improve access to care for vulnerable populations, it is critical to understand existing clinical service areas and patterns of service utilization, particularly amid three concurrent national trends: growing numbers of uninsured, rapid expansion of CHCs, and the likelihood of a mandated insurance requirement increasing the burden on existing primary care providers,” write Andrew Bazemore, MD, MPH, assistant director of the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, and his co-authors in “Harnessing Geographic Information Systems to Enable Community-Oriented Primary Care.”

GIS has been used to study disease outbreaks, cancer epidemiology and the impact of distance on access to care, Bazemore and his colleagues note. However, the system has not been applied to clinical information or to measuring access to and use of primary health care services at the community level.

The study demonstrated that GIS yields useful information that allows planners to map geographic, demographic, health needs and other data. That information, in turn, identifies concentrations of people who have chronic conditions that require primary medical care and are most at-risk for being underserved.

The mapping system then enables planners to determine whether existing or planned primary care services are located in areas that can serve these patients.

The second study, “The Impact of a Clinic Move on Vulnerable Patients with Chronic Disease: A Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Analysis,” provided a real-world application. Here, Bazemore applied GIS to measure the impact of a family medicine residency relocation on patients.

Both indicate that GIS provides invaluable information for planning services to meet the needs of the communities in which they are located, he said. To date, health planners have not had such information.

With the expected expansion of community health centers across the nation, Bazemore said, GIS will ensure that centers are planned and located in areas that actually meet the communities’ needs.

January 29, 2010


About the Robert Graham Center

The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care works to improve individual and population health by enhancing the delivery of primary care. The Center staff generates and analyzes evidence that brings a family medicine and primary care perspective to health policy deliberations at local, state, and national levels.

Founded in 1999, the Robert Graham Center is an independent research unit affiliated with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The information and opinions contained in research from the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.