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How can ArcGIS simplify public health data collection and standardization?

Are you an environmental health supervisor struggling to consolidate and collate your team’s data? Perhaps a public health inspector faced with sampling restaurants, beaches and public pools this summer? Or maybe an epidemiologist responsible for collecting and reporting on COVID-19 vaccination boosters for your region? Read about how ArcGIS solutions support public health data collection, reporting and action. 

Data is the bedrock of public health. But how data is collected, reported and shared often varies among Canada’s health regions. In some cases, especially during health emergencies, challenges in data collection and sharing can lead to delayed data reporting, inconsistent messaging and ineffective action. And because public health challenges cross our municipal and provincial boundaries – such as infectious disease outbreaks, heat waves, or air pollution risks – the ability to collect and share data in standardized ways is critical for cost-effective and timely action. 

Are you an environmental health supervisor struggling to consolidate and collate your team’s data? Perhaps a public health inspector faced with sampling restaurants, beaches, and public pools this summer? Or maybe an epidemiologist responsible for collecting and reporting on COVID-19 vaccination boosters for your region? Geographic data collection tools can help simplify and streamline your data collection and reporting workflows. And when integrated with spatial information, public health teams can readily conduct analytics and design programs or interventions on multi-regional public health issues. Below are a few examples of ArcGIS solutions to support public health data collection, reporting and action. 

Digitally transform and integrate public health inspections 

Esri technology is used to help simplify and streamline common public health workflows, such as restaurant inspections. In many municipalities, inspections are often requested by the public via telephone request. This process is resource-intensive and slow which can deter the public’s use of the service. Similarly, health inspectors often document their reported status of restaurants on paper and transcribe the result to a database. Recording inspection results on paper is vulnerable to human error in data collection and corresponding inaccuracies in data reporting. As a solution to these common in-the-field tasks, ArcGIS can integrate this entire workflow from request to inspection using a user-friendly visual interface.

Restaurant inspections dashboard

In this ArcGIS Dashboard, restaurants are compiled in a geographic format to help inspectors navigate their field work and readily input results in a cohesive and centralized platform. This simplifies workflows not only for public health field inspectors but also for environmental health supervisors.  

Improve services for vulnerable communities with mobile data capture tools 

Locating and providing care for the homeless population in communities can be a challenge for public health teams, especially when aiming to get a holistic picture of the homelessness crisis across an entire region. Placer County, California, tackled this problem by leveraging a mobile survey application. Law enforcement and community volunteers captured accurate location data and survey information during on-the-ground engagement with the homeless population on smartphones using ArcGIS Survey123. This data was instantaneously compiled into ArcGIS Dashboard at a county-level to provide program supervisors a regional understanding of the distribution of the homeless population among cities and where to prioritize support for existing shelters, where to construct future shelters housing, and where to provide additional social services for particularly vulnerable communities. Check out the full story here.

Survey123 on a mobile device

Public health & community stakeholders used Survey123 on their mobile devices to perform real-time evaluation of the homeless communities in cities across Placer County, California.  

Gain situational awareness across multi-regional health facilities 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital administrators and public health practitioners alike were responsible for understanding their health facility surge capacity. However, in the absence of multi-regional data reporting, it was challenging for these decision makers to have visibility on an area’s capacity to manage surging COVID-19 cases, number of hospital rooms and ICU beds, staff shortages, and other necessary resources like equipment. Having a real-time perspective on capacity would have helped administrators understand where to re-direct patients or staff if nearby facilities were over capacity. Indeed, knowing where hospitals have capacity in near real-time is critical for emergency response.  

The SANER project (Situational Awareness for Novel Epidemic Response) is a novel innovation built to connect facility data and visualize capacity in near real-time across a region. At the core of the solution is ArcGIS acting as the workflow hub. The solution pulls health facility data from hospital servers in real-time and in standardized formats. This data automatically flowed into ArcGIS Dashboards to create a real-time view of hospital bed capacity. In effect, these dashboards provided critical information at the fingertips of health teams, hospital administrators, and emergency responders so that they can make life-saving decisions like routing emergency vehicles to the closest health facilities with open beds as fast as possible. 

SANER Dashboard example

This ArcGIS Dashboard provides a regional view of capacity within Chicago, Illinois, including near real-time estimates of hospital and ICU beds and number of ventilators available in this area of interest.  

We on the Esri Canada Public Health team are always reflecting on our on-the-ground public health experience in our recommendations for GIS solutions. Our Health Solutions Lead, Brian Mosley, has over 10 years of experience as the GIS analyst in local public health out of Kingston, Ontario. Brian felt strongly that we highlight the use of ArcGIS for public health field inspections and data standardization based on some of the bottlenecks he observed working in public health. Many thanks to Brian for co-writing and developing the visual content for this piece. 

Are you interested in hearing more about how ArcGIS can support your surveillance, environmental health, or community health data collection workflows? We’d love to hear from you! Please reach out to to hear more about the power of GIS.  

Attending Public Health 2022? If so, visit the Esri Canada booth to speak with one of our public health experts!

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Alexander (Sandy) Watts is the Public Health Industry Manager for Esri Canada. He supports the digital future of Canada’s public health community by illuminating the power of GIS for health challenges unique to Canadian populations. As a spatial epidemiologist, he has led various geospatial research projects for epidemic preparedness and responses, creating GIS-driven solutions that supported policy decisions and resource allocation strategies at the Public Health Agency of Canada, the US-CDC Division of Global Migration & Quarantine and the World Health Organization. Sandy is passionate about the potential for location intelligence and GeoAI innovations to solve longstanding and future public health challenges, especially to reduce health inequities.

Profile Photo of Alexander Watts