How spatial analytics can help fight the Cononavirus
POSTED : February 21, 2020
BY : Deanna Sanchez

Everything happens somewhere, and this is as true for healthcare as any other industry. With the rapid spread of Coronavirus, spatial analytics are being used to inform the direction of containment, while providing insight into epidemiological trends. In a global economy with a fast-moving outbreak like Coronavirus, interactive mapping tools will play a critical role in preventing its spread.

From analyzing the spread of disease to determining its cause, as well as the populations it affects, geography and healthcare are interconnected.

Physicians, service staff, facilities and public health professionals all benefit from spatial analytics. With geographical variations in specialties, outreach and accessibility, the need to respond quickly and efficiently to an outbreak requires the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to allocate resources. Medical geography plays a crucial role in prevention as well, focusing efforts on geographic areas where transmission is likely to occur, and utilizing quarantine measures, while attempting to predict the next epicenters of outbreaks.

Medical geography may seem as novel as the Coronavirus itself, but it has been actively used for centuries. Epidemiology, the study of how diseases affect populations, has its foundation in geography. John Snow, considered one of the founders of current epidemiology, traced a cholera outbreak in London to one contaminated water pump. Using counts of cholera incidences, he drew the outbreak locations on a map and was able to pinpoint the source of the epidemic by the geographic clustering of cases. Today’s epidemiologists dealing with the Coronavirus are in many ways using similar techniques but with more sophisticated tools and larger datasets.

GIS: A modern tool for epidemiology

By using Alteryx, a leading solution in healthcare analytics, we were able to create the below maps, showing the spread of Coronavirus in the U.S. over the period of a few weeks. Each dot represents confirmed cases of the disease with color variations illustrating one or more instances of the disease.

How spatial analytics can help fight the Coronavirus How spatial analytics can help fight the Coronavirus How spatial analytics can help fight the CoronavirusHow spatial analytics can help fight the Coronavirus

Note: Maps show data of confirmed cases as of 02/11/20 10:50.

The spread and reach of the disease are both visually palpable while providing instant insights, such as the disease’s limited impact, its containment to major cities, and its non-contiguous spread. The where of the Coronavirus, its propagation patterns and the types of people it affects can also be effectively analyzed using GIS. Through examination of the underlying data and the visualization of that data, medical geographers ask spatial questions, such as:

  • Where did the disease first appear?
  • What is its pattern of distribution?
  • Where is it spreading, and how quickly?
  • Who is it affecting, and where are they located?
  • Why is it affecting some populations in one area, and not others?
  • Where are the potential populations that may be affected next?

Alteryx has been used before to research the aggressive outbreak of disease. When the Avian Influenza threatened the U.S. poultry population in 2015, the Department of Agriculture used Alteryx to supply and analyze outbreak maps. This reduced the time needed to manually process data by automating tasks, which would have otherwise tied up critical human capital. For a fast-moving disease, like the Coronavirus, using Alteryx and other GIS software can help health officials to closely monitor the direction of the disease and how fast it’s spreading.

Location analytics can help improve healthcare

These examples are just the beginning of the many types of location analytics that can possibly be applied within the healthcare industry. From research on disease patterns to improved healthcare services and optimized site locations, spatial analytics help practitioners more thoroughly understand factors influencing the quality of healthcare, as well as to plan for the future.

See how Alteryx views data science as a tool to fight infectious diseases.  


About the Author

Deanna SanchezDeanna Sanchez serves as Alteryx Practice Manager at PK. She began using Alteryx in 2005, specializing in Spatial and Demographic Analytics. Her degree in Geography (concentrations in GIS, Medical Geography) enables her to consult in numerous verticals. She has trained over 400 students in Alteryx and presented at the International Medical Geography Symposium, the NRF Big Show NYC, and multiple Alteryx Inspires. Deanna co-leads the 400+ member Dallas Alteryx User Group, launched DFW Women of Analytics and the Fort Worth User Group, and was greatly honored to receive the Alteryx For Good Champion Award in 2017.

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