Spatial epidemiology of trauma: understanding and preventing injury through geographic analysis

Over the course of the last two decades, the notion that health and well-being is tied to societal and environmental circumstances that may overlap and intersect with important elements of individual experiences has been widely utilized as a means of characterizing the inequitable distribution of a wide range of health outcomes, including injuries. Importantly, the population health perspective model is transforming how we understand the complex interaction between the environment and injuries, and tailoring prevention and policy responses to address the inequitable distribution of their occurrence. Yet, there are currently no frameworks in place for how we quantify the interconnectivity between social, environmental, and geographical determinants of injury and building evidence that highlights the underlying relationship between all three factors with injuries. Addressing the ecological and geographical questions regarding this complex interaction entails integrating the current injury prevention models with the tools and analysis functions of geographic information systems (GIS). GIS are widely recognized as essential tools in public health promotion and surveillance as they allow for the integration of multiple data sources and the visual and spatial analysis of health data in relation to locations, distances, or proximities. GIS can increase our understanding of current population access to emergency medical services, the extent that injuries ‘cluster’ in certain areas and among certain population groups, as well as help researchers better understand and locate the links between people and their environments that may either reduce or increase injury risk. Nathaniel is currently applying GIS in a number of research areas in order to determine where important systems elements might be augmented to improve population access to critical care, for identifying incidence patterns that might have gone under noticed had they not been examined using GIS, as well as how this technology might be used to help researchers more accurately target prevention efforts to reach communities in-need. This research will help structure ongoing injury prevention efforts in British Columbia as well as provide future researchers with a number of frameworks for using GIS to improve our understanding of the societal, environmental, and geographic factors associated with injury.