Matchmakers

PROJECT at a glance

Who: HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration, Office of IT's Division of Enterprise Solutions Development and Management.

Mission: To combine text and map-based data on available health resources and the populations that need them in the Geospatial Data Warehouse.

What was: Data was all text.

What is: Map overlays identify the location of the nation's health resources and in-need populations.

Users: Health and Human Services agencies, Environmental Protection Agency, HRSA grantees and the public.

Impact: Continuously updated maps show the status of health resources by state and county; system was put to use by the HHS Operation Center for Emergency Response after Hurricane Katrina.

Duration: Geospatial Data Warehouse rolled out to HRSA in 2002, became publicly available in 2004.

Warehouse expands its view of U.S.-Mexico border

The Health Resources and Services Administration, which provides visual information on health services in U.S. counties that border Mexico, is beginning to include similar resources in Mexican border states.

Frequent movement between countries and within the United States makes continuity of health care difficult for people living along the U.S.-Mexico border. They experience higher rates of communicable illnesses, such as tuberculosis and vaccine-preventable illnesses, than other groups across the United States.

The states that border Mexico'Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas'include counties with some of the highest rates of poverty, unemployment and uninsured people in the country.

Access to health care in the U.S. border region is heavily influenced by health care dynamics in Mexican sister communities and subsequent cross-border health care trends.

'There's been a lot of work going on about crossing the border and getting [reports of] care for all the residents of that area,' said Joseph Nevin, director of the Office of IT's division of enterprise solutions development and management. HRSA had data on the counties along the border on the U.S. side but nothing on the Mexican side.

HRSA put together a team that worked with a committee, including health professionals from Mexico, to obtain data on the Mexican states along the border, encoded it geographically and loaded it in the Geospatial Data Warehouse.

'Now when we do our maps, we can zoom in on that area to see the Mexican components,' Nevin said.

Data warehouse built by team members (l. to r.) Terri Cohen, Joseph Nevin and Julie Baitty puts health care information into visual form.

Zaid Hamid

HRSA's geospatial data warehouse links health resources, needs

One of the real challenges for government health organizations is matching services with the people who need them.

The Health Resources and Services Administration has made that job easier with its Geospatial Data Warehouse. The warehouse's project team combined data from separate sources to map out the country's health resources and the populations in need. It delivers that data to other government agencies and makes a subset of the data available to the public via the Web.

'We thought a very visual way to do this was to spatially connect the location of our resources and the location of our needs with a variety of health care indicators and population features, and put them all on a map in different layers,' said Joseph Nevin, director of enterprise solutions development and management in HRSA's Office of Information and Technology.

The team, which also included Terri Cohen and Julie Baitty, started with population data from the Census Bureau and the health care indicators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

'We could then see where the imbalances between the demand, the need and the resources actually were,' he said.

In the past year, HRSA has made its geospatial data available to the public via the Web. HRSA, an agency of the Health and Human Services Department, matches its health resources with populations that need them through 200 programs.

The integration of geographic information systems technology makes the HRSA Geospatial Data Warehouse far more than a useful one-stop data shop, said HRSA CIO Catherine Flickinger. Modeling and mapping transform HRSA's data and provide an entirely new level of service.

'In creating the HRSA Geospatial Data Warehouse, the HGDW team prompted the agency to see its data in a new light, ask new questions and conduct business with a new level of knowledge,' she said. As a result of the team's efforts, HRSA and other users have quick and easy access to information that significantly improves setting goals and making decisions.

Putting it together

'Comprehensive data combined with GIS makes health care access patterns visible and understandable in a way that volumes of data alone never will be,' Flickinger said.

The warehouse enables HRSA to integrate:
  • Traditional tabular data with spatial data

  • Text-based and map-based data access methods, with each communicating with the other

  • The entire data preparation process, so that spatial processing is a key component of the data refresh and management cycle.


  • The relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina provided a prime example of its use.

    'We are continuously producing maps for the affected areas, both state and county, showing the status of our resources,' Nevin said.

    HHS has more than 300 health clinics in the affected area; 10 were closed temporarily and 11 destroyed by the hurricane. As that information became available to the crisis center, it immediately was routed into the data warehouse and on a real-time basis was available on a map.

    'It also enables us to look at the needs of different populations in that area and where we may have lost the only source of health care, and make that data available to other agencies that are able to send the resources in there,' Nevin said.

    HRSA makes its data available to other agencies through the Web with a special spatial data feature. For example, HRSA makes data available directly to the Environmental Protection Agency and vice versa. EPA geospatial data shows locations where problems have been reported with the water or where the unavailability of treatment for water could pose a public health threat.

    Other HHS agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are the heaviest users of the geospatial data warehouse, which makes use of data from CDC and the National Center for Vital Health Statistics.

    'What makes the data warehouse unique is that we wedded tools,' Nevin said. Users looking at a map can with a click 'bring that data in tabular form to your screen'or tabular analysis or graphical analysis'and map that without having to go back out and go into another tool. It can all be done within the structure of the data warehouse,' he said.

    Its most recent milestone came last year, when HRSA took data that had been available to employees and analysts via its intranet and moved it to the Web.

    Improvements coming

    In the next six months, HRSA plans to completely revamp the data warehouse, improving the reporting tools, and trying to make it easier for people who aren't so aware of HRSA's data content to use the data warehouse without formal training. The team also plans to add another layer of technology.

    'Probably the biggest thing that the new technology is going to let us do is take the static nature of the data in the warehouse and connect it through the tools to more dynamic data, that is, the data we are actually gathering every day,' Nevin said.

    HRSA uses applications for geographic information from ESRI of Redlands, Calif., and online analytical processing and reporting and data extraction tools from Hyperion Solutions Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif.

    'A great deal of this forward movement is trying to keep those tools completely at the same level of technology and talking with each other, to move them forward together,' Nevin said. 'They're not that easy to link.'

    The team is revamping the warehouse to make it work well on the Microsoft .Net framework, particularly the home-grown piece that links all the commercial products together.

    The biggest nonfederal users are its grantees, such as community-based primary health care sites and the National Health Service Corps, which sends health care providers into areas where there may not even be infrastructure to support them before they arrive.

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