This is Healthcare… so why the map?
Recently I spoke at a seminar on provider directories hosted by the California Association of Health Plans (CAHP). An audience member and asked me “So why the map?” It had not occurred to me that the use of a map-based interface for provider directories as well as integrated care coordination would be a novel idea.
The use of geographical references in medicine started with Hippocrates around 485 BCE. Hippocrates attributed physique and general demeanor to the location in which an individual was raised. Large, hearty, and perhaps aggressive individuals came from rugged mountainous regions with distinct seasons, while shorter rounder folks hailed from the bucolic meadows of the flat low-lying areas. Al Razi, a noted Persian Physician hung slabs of meat in various locations around Baghdad with the theory that the slab that took the longest to rot must be in a place of the cleanest healthiest air and as a result present the best location for a Hospital. And of course most of us know of Dr.John Snow if only because he shares the name with a prominent Game of Thrones character. Dr. Snow mapped the location of the deaths attributed to Cholera in London and then “Layered” on that the location of the city’s wells. In doing so he was able to identify the well closest to the most deaths and had the wells handle removed. Cholera related deaths soon abated.
But does the introduction of a map actually help the user? Is it worth the investment? John Zheng wrote a great article “Visualizing Healthcare Provider Network using SAS Tools” that really drives home the value of the geospatial representation of data. Figure 1 represents a network involving roughly 1,100 providers. The shades of blue represent provider types, the greater the number of patients shared by a provider with other providers the larger the node. Nodes are connected when the two providers involved share more than 1% of their total patient load. As John points out in his article, this figure can, “barely tell an insightful story”.
Figure 2 shows how the network is “cleaned up” a bit when the shared patient percentage is raised to 5% or 10%. While doing so clears things up viewing the data within this context
hardly means anything without reading the entirety of John’s article. I think that we can all agree that having a frame of reference enables us to better understand information. This holds true for a user of an application, an analyst of data, an individual walking down a street, or a patient looking at a network of providers. Figure 3 illustrates this point well.
The introduction of a map places the data in a context all of us can relate to. With navigation systems now standard in most vehicles mapped based interfaces have become commonplace. Here the map allows us to easily wrap our heads around what was previously a meaningless pattern of dots and lines.
There are an estimated 325 million people in the U.S. 251 million are over the age of eighteen. Let’s assume half of these use an online provider directory of some sort. That is a lot of consumers all facing the difficult task of locating health providers. And yet almost every online provider directory begins with the same drop-down boxes. These filters allow us to par down the list of providers contracted with our health plan by type of provider, specialty, gender, accepting patients, and languages spoken. Once entered we are shown a list which, if we are lucky, allows us to click on an entry and have it mapped. But this must be done repeatedly for each type and specialty of provider you’re looking for.
Figure 4, in contrast is a landing page with an online map that uses your location and displays color coded pins that identify all the providers within 15 miles of your home that are accepting patients with just a single click – “use my location”. As healthcare consumers we should accept nothing less. Health plans faced with increasing competition should do everything possible to maintain their current member base as well as gain new members. A mapped based provider directory would be a great start.