A GIS collects, analyzes, and delivers images of geographic-based information. An energy analyst might use a GIS to spot oil and gas exploration sites, a homeland security analyst might use the technology to spot potential terrorist targets, and a medical research center might tap a GIS to spot health-problem hotspots. Duke Medicine, which incorporates Duke University School of Medicine, the Duke University School of Nursing and the Duke University Health System, wanted to go a step further.
Duke collects mountains of data. It runs three hospitals and hundreds of clinics, looking after some 2 million patients, all with unique electronic health records. The health system thought that if it could marry its EHR data with a GIS it could give its clinicians the ability to pull information on certain conditions, match that to geographic locations, and predict – on demand – which people within a population are likely in the future to be diagnosed with a particular ailment.