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Mapping Technology At Heart Of Hospital Crisis Management October 22, 2008

Posted by Bahadir Sahin in English, Haber (News).
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Half a dozen times on a recent night in the emergency room, Dr. Jeff Grange checked a monitor for help making crucial routing and staff decisions. Maps and photos showed him where ambulances and medical helicopters were, and how rescuers could avoid traffic snarls.

What enables this is GIS, or geographic information systems. These computer systems take in raw data feeds and output them to clickable icons on maps. Grange’s hospital, Loma Linda University Medical Center east of Los Angeles, is several years into a GIS development project with nearby GIS firm ESRI. The project is an example of the burgeoning uses of mapping technology, which have been advanced by the map-tech efforts of Google, (GOOG) Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo, (YHOO) among others.

“It’s Web-based, which means it’s not just in the emergency room,” Grange said of Loma Linda’s system. “Anyone who has access to the Internet can have access to this with just a password. A battalion chief at the side of the road can pull it up via cellular.”

About three years ago, Loma Linda, a regional trauma center for four counties, began pushing for the visual approach as a way to make better calls in crises. It could help, Grange says, in the kind of situation he encountered during a medical transport by helicopter.

1 Hour Vs. 30 Seconds

“We were lifting off and going to our base. Meanwhile, a 6-year-old girl gets hit by a car almost just below where we were,” he said. “But help was dispatched from nearly an hour away. Because they didn’t know we were there, 30 seconds away.”

The Loma Linda hospital began developing its system, called Aegis, for Advanced Emergency Geographic Information System, using a $500,000 Department of Defense telemedicine funding package.

“We started to build what are essentially a set of Web services,” said Bill Davenhall, global health and human services solutions manager at ESRI. “We worked with them to say, ‘This is what needs to happen.’ ”

Air ambulances already had GPS on board. That made it relatively easy to feed their positions into the system. Agreements were worked out to patch in streaming data feeds from the fire and police departments and patient-capacity information from other area hospitals. Aegis also pulls in weather data, and traffic images from the California Department of Transportation.

“Caltrans has Web cams out there,” Davenhall said. “All these data feeds are sitting out there. You just have to know where they are and tie them in.”

Will Upload Photos

Loma Linda has given some other hospitals access to the system. Grange says one goal is to make it possible for first responders to upload incident photos.

The system uses ESRI’s GIS server software, hosted at ESRI facilities. It supports a geographic data exchange format called GeoRSS, an emerging open standard.

“It allows us to ingest any service that’s developed in (GeoRSS),” said Ed Carubis, senior consultant in ESRI’s services practice. He says the system is flexible enough to output data to a variety of map-viewing platforms, including Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth.

“This particular implementation is relatively new,” Carubis said of Aegis. “Loma Linda has been in discussions with a number of counties for expansion. And there’s been interest in other parts of the country, as well as internationally.”

GIS is widely used by government and is also used in many industries. Sales of spatial information management software will rise 10% this year to $3.2 billion, predicts market tracker IDC. It expects compound annual growth of 12.5% over the next five years.

Basic systems for data management are now largely spatially enabled, IDC says in a new report, noting that Oracle, (ORCL) IBM (IBM) and Microsoft have all added spatial-management features to their data management products.

Used To Study Cancer

Two health-care-related uses of GIS are research — such as looking for geographic patterns in cancer incidence — and emergency response, says Charles Foundyller, founder of research firm Daratech.

“ESRI has a lot of underlying technology for that,” he said. “So does Intergraph.”

Foundyller estimates privately held ESRI’s revenue at about $710 million last year. Privately held Intergraph lists 2007 revenue of $725.3 million, which might make it the market leader.

Another example of the developing use of GIS in emergency response is Starrs, the St. Louis Area Regional Response System, says Gartner analyst Jeff Vining. It includes an emergency patient-tracking system. Starrs is meant to help coordinate when an incident involves many agencies across several jurisdictions in Missouri.

Besides ESRI and Intergraph, Vining says major GIS vendors include Pitney Bowes, (PBI) which bought MapInfo last year for $448 million.

Among the trends Vining sees under way are adding more overlays of data and 3-D mapping. In emergency response, he says, this could mean opening up a 3-D map of a skyline, zeroing in on a building and being able to see how many people are supposed to work on the 19th floor.

“It’s seeing a more granular view of the infrastructure,” he said. “There’s GIS mapping of sewers, pipelines — anything a terrorist could use.”

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