Understanding Health Disparities through Geographic Information Systems
Samuel Soret (Loma Linda University, USA), Karl J. McCleary (The Pennsylvania State University, USA), Patrick A. Rivers (Arizona State University, USA) and Susanne B. Montgomery (Loma Linda University, USA)
Copyright: © 2003
The emerging discipline of health geographics uses the concepts and techniques of medical geography (Meade, Florin & Gesler, 1988) together with modern automated Geographic Information Systems (GIS) methods to investigate health issues (Ricketts, Savitz, Gesler & Osborne, 1994). The main aim of this chapter is to bring the exciting potential contributions inherent in this approach to the attention of health practitioners and researchers. With the development of powerful, yet affordable geo-technologies, digital maps and visual displays are produced that can be used for research, practice and/or health policy analysis. One major advantage of this technology is that complex information can be displayed for the consumer in more intuitive, self-explanatory form. This is accomplished by linking and overlaying health data to standard census geographic areas which can be accessed quickly and flexibly from national and state agencies (Devesa, Grauman, Blor, Pennello, Hoover & Fraumeni, 1999; Kim, 1998). This chapter will illustrate how a GIS-based, multi-method approach can be applied to the study of health disparities. Using the pressing public health issue of access to kidney transplantation in California as an example, we will explore the notion of health disparities using a geographic conceptual framework for studying and understanding existing gaps in transplantations conducted. Different GIS techniques to addressing this issue are presented with a discussion of the relative advantages of each approach and a final review on how to most effectively use a GIS-based approach in studying health disparities.