From Reactive to Preventative Health Care – a Role for Open Map Standards

Over the past decade, health authorities have used geospatial technologies to help respond to influenza outbreaks, plan responses to public health risks of extreme weather conditions, implement breast cancer programs, track West Nile virus, and much more. Wider use of OGC [Open Geospatial Consortium] standards by the health mapping community would make more data and processing resources discoverable, assessable and accessible. On May 31 the OGC will hold a free public webinar to review the charter for an OGC Health Domain Working Group.

Last September, OGC and Directions Media held an OGC GovFuture webinar entitled: Serving Public Health through Open Health Mapping Services (recording available here: ).  This included a presentation on the New Brunswick Lung Association’s implementation of OGC standards and the Health XML Schema (linked to HL7 – diagnosis/discharge data) for applications involving cross-border influenza pandemic, chronic respiratory illness, and environmental and community programs of the New Brunswick Lung Association.  This was one of many health mapping projects funded by GeoConnections, Natural Resources Canada. 

Similarly, OGC standards are used as part of the European Union’s INSPIRE ( initiative. The Thematic Working Group on "Human Health and Safety" developed a harmonised data model for exchange of "human health and safety" information that will become the mandatory data exchange model/format for public authorities in Europe (to be implemented between 2015 and 2020).

To respond to the Health community's need for improved access to geospatial information, a draft charter for an OGC Health Domain Working Group was recently introduced.  Various OGC members and non-members have provided feedback on issues ranging from disease surveillance to public health asset management, cross-border exercising, privacy protection, and medical information system applications.  The feedback so far suggests there are interoperability requirements at sub-national, national, regional, and global levels that could be addressed by a focused OGC working group. 

The proposed OGC Health Domain Working Group would enable collaboration, exchange of best practices, and assimilation of inputs for new encodings, interfaces, applications and extensions to geospatial standards serving emerging needs in the marketplace.   By bringing together geospatial vendors and health industry end users, an OGC Health Domain Working Group would provide an opportunity to cultivate technical interoperability solutions that support the missions of a broad range of health communities. 

The interest that has been expressed has led to our scheduling of the first ad hoc OGC Health Domain Working Group meeting, May 31st 2013, from noon until 2:00 p.m. EST. The meeting is being held as a webinar. It is free and open to all who are interested. Register for the webinar here: .

Eddie Oldfield is Owner, Spatial QUEST Solutions and an OGC member. He was formerly Director, New Brunswick Climate Change Hub at the New Brunswick Lung Association He is an Appointed Member, Resilient Communities Working Group, National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (Canada, UNISDR, Hyogo Framework of Action) and an Appointed Member, National Advisory Committee, QUEST Canada