How is Optum using GIS in health care?

GM_100x100In mid-September, our Optum HealthState team attended ESRI’s Health and Human Services GIS Conference in Atlanta, GA. Surrounded by peers and pioneers in GIS (geographical information systems), we were impressed by the innovation and excited to explore opportunities for collaboration. We found that there are several quality GIS products and services in the public health space, yet they are lacking for private health care in the areas of harmonizing data, site selection, and care coordination.

Harmonizing data

It’s not easy to fully understand private health care’s problems, priorities and available data. Our team is in a unique position; we are experienced with navigating complex claims databases to inform program and project leaders about the health of their population and system. We are able to connect population health and socioeconomic data to provider coverage to measure network adequacy. For example, we created a choropleth map displaying the density of low income households by ZIP code, overlaid with a heat map of members who have claims associated with depression. We sprinkled in the locations of behavioral health providers and the gaps in care became more obvious. We combined claims, public and network data to geospatially illuminate something that would have been difficult to glean from a spreadsheet.

We have had the opportunity to enrich the data of health care-related companies and public health institutions with ours, and we hope to collaborate in private-public partnerships and interventions. We have helped product-oriented companies utilize GIS to better target sales and marketing efforts to the geographic areas where people need their products most. By harmonizing multiple data sources, Optum HealthState helps health care professionals ensure that they are anticipating and meeting the needs of those they serve.

Site selection

Other fields and sectors are ahead in using GIS to make business decisions. One application in particular is site selection. Retail companies use GIS in order to figure out where to open a new store that is at least 10 minutes away from a competitor, within one mile of a major highway, and within a 30-minute driving radius of consumers who want their products. Controlled burning efforts are often fueled by GIS to determine locations that make the most conservation impact, but minimize smoke exposure to people living nearby.

Similarly, HealthState helped a health plan determine where to place a regional office based on the number of Medicaid-covered members field workers could reach within an hour’s drive. We’re also exploring helping specialty providers identify where to open a new clinic based on prevalent conditions and public transportation routes. With GIS we are able to match plan and physician services to member needs.

Care coordination tools

An exciting development in the private health care space is the movement from simply identifying and studying the social determinants of health, to investing in them and recognizing community organizations as an integral part of the solution. From the get-go, our team was passionate about connecting community health and care coordination. We’ve seen in the field that GIS can have a positive and meaningful impact on navigation, care coordination and community resource planning.

Location plays a huge part in health outcomes through spatial barriers that make healthy food, recreation and shelter hard to come by. We conducted over 100 interviews in the field to inform the development and design of a tool that empowers care coordinators to refer clients to resources that are relevant, accessible and impactful. The types of resources that clients are looking for inform in real-time a data set of community needs— which are displayed to leaders and decision-makers using map products and dashboards. A geographic network of community organizations helps makes referrals and tracking more efficient. In essence, GIS can help close the loop in care coordination to ensure that quality referrals are made, members get the services they need and impacts are measured.


Next post, we will hear from some of HealthState’s partners who are using GIS insights to move from “aha moments” to business actions.

–Glafira Marcon, HealthState Analyst, Optum Technology Innovation R&D

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