Does Geomedicine Have a Future at the Practice Level?

Geomedicine is an emerging field that focuses on taking geographic location and environment into account when analyzing individual and public health. While many of its applications remain in the research phase, the question still stands – will it translate from academia to real world situations?

At first glance, the response seems positive. Knowing your patient lives in an area with high carbon dioxide emissions could help explain their breathing problems. But the issue with geomedicine has less to do with potential benefits than practicality. Could your practice actually utilize geomedicine?

Solving the Geomedicine Challenge
The chief problem standing in the way of practicality in geomedicine is access to geographic information. Yes, it’s easy to ask patients where they live, but that doesn’t provide you with in-depth information such as the quality of drinking water or levels of ozone in the area.

Fortunately, burgeoning advancements in the field promise to make this information easily available to physicians.

Just this past July, the FDA approved an asthma inhaler called Asthmapolis which has already hit the market. It uses Bluetooth technology to show when and where patients use their asthma inhalers. The data is then sent to an electronic portal where a physician can analyze it and attempt to determine the triggers of a patient’s asthma symptoms.

AT&T Labs is working toward creating similar inhalers that use Wi-Fi and GPS technology to send information about patients’ inhaler usage back to their physicians.

Advancements in providing geographic health information don’t stop with asthma inhalers. Esri, a geographic IT software company, has developed an app that allows patients to correlate their health conditions with the environmental conditions in the area they live or have lived.

The app is currently available in the iStore, so you can have your patients use it now to get an idea of their environmental risks.

Online Resources You Can Use Today
Even without some of these recent advancements, you can still employ geomedicine to an extent. If you dig deep enough, there are numerous resources available online that provide information about the environmental conditions within specific geographic areas. It won’t be patient specific, but could still be useful.

Resources like the Toxic Release Inventory National Analysis from the EPA have maps that show where activities that might be hazardous to a patient’s health occur, such as coal mining or chemical manufacturing.

This type of information can help you determine what health problems to look for in patients from a particular community.

What Does the Future Look Like
So, it appears geomedicine is moving toward becoming practical. It isn’t far-fetched to envision a day when most patients have apps on their phones or small devices that gauge daily environment(s). Some geomedicine advocates are even pushing for geographic information storage to be included in EHRs.

But we just aren’t there yet.

For now, practicing geomedicine is basically limited to whatever general geographic information you can find in studies. While useful, this won’t unearth the full potential that geomedicine promises. However, given its degree of potential, it’s worth the wait.

EHRs are a relatively recent advancement that are practical today. Our Definitive EHR Buying Guide will help you find the right one for your practice. 

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