Improving Access to Healthcare Facilities Through Geoinformation and Crowdsourcing

Prof. Dr. Alexander Zipf, CEO of HeiGIT gGmbH, the Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation Technology

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything over the past year, it is how important our healthcare system is. Everyone should have access to a doctor and know how to get to the nearest hospital in an emergency. To help accomplish this, the Heidelberg Institute of Geoinformation Technology (HeiGIT) has developed the Open Healthcare Access Map, a web application that calculates accessibility to healthcare infrastructure by combining traffic data with that infrastructure. Additional information about population distribution provides the user with insights into the health care supply in certain regions. By aggregating the information on an administrative level using hexagons, the Open Healthcare Access Map is able to paint an accurate picture of the spatial distribution of healthcare in a country. Though currently a prototype, the application supports over 80 different countries in various parts of the world.

 Fig. 1: Overview of all available countries in Open Healthcare Access Map

While OpenStreetMap (OSM) does already offer a lot of data on the healthcare sector, the quality of such data differs in each country. Since OSM is sustained by volunteer mapping efforts, it is important to lower monetary barriers that prevent the emergence of mapping communities in some countries. In 2020, OSM Senegal received a micro-grant and was able to map 197 hospitals in Senegal and update information about the availability of emergency health services at facilities. With this data, users can calculate the impact this information has on emergency services and their capacity through HeiGIT’s openrouteservice, an opensource routing service that consumes user-generated and collaboratively collected free geographic data to provide directions in the form of optimized routing and reachability analyses, time-distance matrixes, point-of-interest finding, as well as Pelias geocoding. In addition to standard openrouteservice, there are a number of other services provided by HeiGIT that can help improve the lives of people and assist in emergency worker activities. The openrouteservice client for disaster management, for example, is a specialized instance of openrouteservice which provides hourly updates to the road network in disaster areas so that accurate and up-to-date routes can be generated for use in humanitarian relief activities. In addition, HeiGIT's approach to explore missing built-up areas in OSM using a combination of social and remote sensing, can be used to significantly reduce volunteer mapping efforts and the maintenance of data quality.

Geographic information data is very important for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and needs to be integrated with other data and statistical information. Doing so helps determine to what extent SDGs have been reached and where further action is necessary. This is in line with HeiGIT's goal of encouraging and facilitating the beneficial use of geoinformation for society. To achieve this goal, HeiGIT (in collaboration with the GIScience group of Heidelberg University) provides a range of in-house developed web services, mostly based on OpenStreetMap (OSM), such as the aforementioned openrouteservice, or the OSM history analytics platform which makes OSM history data more accessible for various data analytics tasks on a global scale. In 2020 HeiGIT was able to provide a new map in ohsomeHeX showing an overview of areas in Sub-Saharan Africa that are still missing vital information on healthcare facilities. Having access to this information is critical for healthcare and emergency workers in order to estimate the need the population may have for these facilities, especially during recurrent waves of the pandemic.

 Fig. 2: ohsomeHeX with Completeness layer on Health Facilities in Sub-Sahara Africa

In line with this, the Humanitarian OSM Stats (Humstats) dashboard also provides several humanitarian organizations with detailed, weekly reports on their OSM mapping statistics, allowing them to focus their efforts where it is most needed.

If you are interested in learning more about the various healthcare access projects HeiGIT is working on, check out these blogposts:

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