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The Population Health Approach: health GIS as a bridge from theory to practice

Author(s): Barnard Deborah | Hu Weimin

Journal: International Journal of Health Geographics
ISSN 1476-072X

Volume: 4;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 23;
Date: 2005;
Original page

Keywords: Community Health Planning | Needs Assessment | Public Health Informatics | Medical Geography | Geographic Information Systems

Abstract Background The Population Health Approach, proposed by Health Canada, is the articulation of a long advocated model of human health. This approach strives to ensure that the health system is appropriately oriented to improve health status by applying evidence based practices across the continuum from health determinants to service interventions. Although conceptually appealing, it has been difficult to implement widely in the existing program-based health care system. The Population Health Surveillance Unit (PHSU) of the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) has developed a health geographical information system (HGIS), where GIS is used as both platform for information integration and as an analytical tool supporting comprehensive data analysis. With the assistance of the HGIS, the theory of the population health approach can be transformed into a practical, stepwise process supporting health services and program planning. Results Three important components of a health service planning and evaluation framework grounded in population health theory are described in this article. In particular, a stepwise methodological process to enable the incorporation of the principles of a population health into practical applications is presented; the technical functionality to integrate multiple sources of information, with different levels and scales is discussed; and sources of information about the health of the population at the appropriate level to populate this frame are proposed. An application of the methodology in the planning of health services for a high needs neighbourhood is presented as an illustrative example. Conclusion The population health approach incorporates the consideration of health determinants and the context within which the health conditions arise in communities. The complexity of these relationships requires the application of innovative methodologies such as Health GIS to frame the issues practically. A population health based foundation for the planning and evaluation of health services can now move from theory to practice.
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