Above: Zooming in on the dementia outlook. Part of a presentation at this year’s Aged Care Informatics Conference (17 July 2013), part of HISA’s HIC 2013, to be held in Adelaide from the 15-18 July. Image for visualisation purposes only
By Keryn Curtis
Imagine you are a provider of aged services. You are doing your research, looking ahead and trying to anticipate the nature and scale of care services you will need to be ready to provide in the coming five to ten years and beyond to the next couple of decades.
You go to a website enabled by Google Earth and you hone in on the areas on the map that you currently service. The map can tell you, according to ABS* and AIHW** data, how many people in that geographical area fall into different age groups, as well as how many are likely to have a diagnosis of dementia or other diseases in the coming year or two. Sophisticated built-in data modelling can also give you projected figures by specific geographic areas, for years to come.
Sure enough, your organisation and its locations are also identified on the map, together with links to your range of services. At the same time, you can see the other service providers operating in your area and what services they have to offer. You might also see what advocacy and support groups are available in the region; even whether there are any vacancies. There might be an active online discussion group involving a range of service providers, individuals, government representatives and advocacy groups, considering the value of changing or adding to a program or seeking input to research.
All of this information and more, available through modern geospatial technology, has considerable potential to transform the way that service provision is understood, planned and provided; and it is getting close to becoming available.
Developing the concept
A researcher and PhD candidate from the Australian Institute of Health Innovation at the University of New South Wales has developed a clever ‘geospatial’ tool, very similar to this idea, designed to provide a better understanding of the relationship between the geographical prevalence of different diseases and health conditions and the availability of services to treat and manage those conditions.
A geographer by background, Hamish Robertson has worked in ageing research for the past decade. Drawing on his interest in spatial science and understanding ageing related disease, he has developed an interactive web based technology that links population ageing, and in particular (for his research project), the prevalence of dementia, with popular mapping technology like Google Earth.
The idea is to provide user-friendly, multi-layered maps – by state, region, city, suburb, neighbourhood or local government area – that can illustrate not only the current and predicted prevalence of dementia and other ageing related diseases, but the number and type of services currently available in each area to meet the needs of those diseases – and where there may be gaps.
To achieve this, the technology also enables interested service organisations, health professionals, as well as consumers, to post information that can be shared, considered and discussed.
Above: mapping accessibility to residential aged care facilities in the Sydney metro region (image for visualisation purposes only)
Mr Robertson says population ageing; the epidemiology of ageing; and health and social support systems responses, all involve spatial relationships.
“A spatial perspective has the potential to support better, more accurate and effective responses to ageing – conceptual, technical, communicative and visual technologies.
“A geographical perspective links and integrates social, structural, economic and environmental elements in a meaningful and practical way.
He says location and health have been linked since the beginnings of human understanding and modern spatial science is developing at a rapid rate; yet health sciences, social services and advocacy groups still make very limited use of these sciences.
As part of his research project, Mr Robertson has so far been mapping and indexing services such as meals on wheels, emergency services, hospitals, ACATs, ambulance stations, pharmacies, GPs and other health services.
“We see it as the democratisation of data,” he said.
“Location matters. Geography is integral to a measured societal response – where will the impacts be greatest and on whom? What resources exist? Where are the gaps? Who is available? Where are they or where will they come from?
“This is a connecting technology,” says Mr Robertson. “It enables Government, service providers, researchers, NGOs and individuals to link up across the different health service boxes and break down silos,” Mr Robertson said.
Hamish Robertson is one of the presenters at the Aged Care Informatics Conference (17 July 2013), part of HISA’s HIC 2013, to be held in Adelaide from the 15-18 July. For information about the program and related events, go to http://www.hisa.org.au/page/hic2013agedcare
For further information about Mr Roberston’s research, he can be contacted by email at: email@example.com
*ABS – Australian Bureau of Statistics
**AIHW – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare