In the past few years, we have begun to understand the critical impact that social determinants of health (SDH) can have on individuals. Many of us are screening for SDHs routinely in our practices. Is there a way to move beyond the theoretical of SDHs to the practical?
This week, Pediatrics is early releasing a Pediatrics Perspectives article by Dr. Michelle Trivedi, Dr. Andrew Beck, and Dr. Arvin Garg, from the University of Massachusetts and University of Cincinnati, entitled “Bringing Geospatial Awareness to Community Pediatrics and Primary Care” (10.1542/peds.2021-053926).
Even if you are not familiar with the term “geospatial awareness,” you are probably doing it to some extent. Every time you ask where a family lives so that you can figure out where the closest dentist is, or which subspecialist office is most convenient to them, you are intuitively using geospatial awareness. When a family tells you that they live in a specific neighborhood, and you know that there are no grocery stores in that neighborhood, you are using geospatial awareness.
However, the authors of this Pediatrics Perspectives show us new ways in which we can more systematically use geospatial awareness to help our patients and their families. For instance, have you ever heard of the Aunt Bertha search engine (also known as findhelp.org)? Go ahead and look it up on your browser – I’ll wait.
If you’re anything like me, you were BLOWN AWAY by this search engine. Basically, you type in a zip code, and Aunt Bertha will provide you with hundreds of community resources that are available in that area, and they are sorted into categories, such as “food,” “housing,” “money,” “legal,” and “education.” What if you could connect Aunt Bertha to your electronic health record, so that a list of the resources could be easily added to your after-visit summary for the patient?
What if you could use geospatial awareness in a different way – for instance, looking for patterns of disease in certain neighborhoods? A good example of this is the Flint water crisis, which came to the attention of the entire nation because a pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, after looking through hospital electronic medical records, recognized a geospatial pattern. Many more of her patients who lived in Flint had high blood lead levels. She raised awareness of an important issue and brought about critical change.
Having and using geospatial awareness is important. We can improve our geospatial awareness – and our advocacy for patients and families on an individual-, community-, and policy-level – if we learn to leverage the tools that are at our fingertips.
Think about how you might improve your geospatial awareness. Start with reading this Pediatrics Perspectives, and become even more aware of the resources (or lack of resources) in the community in which you practice. You can then brainstorm with your team about how you can use these resources to better advocate for your patients and families.