Location alongside lifestyle impacts health.
Research has shown that up to 60% of what affects your health has more to do with where you live and your lifestyle versus your health behaviors and genetics. This contradicts what most people think. And while you might believe good health comes from an apple a day or an ounce of prevention or is in your genes, it turns out it may be much more about where you live and the conditions you live in that determine how healthy you are. This has certainly caught the attention of innovative healthcare insurers and providers resulting in these companies coming to your neighborhood ready to learn more about you.
In a recent Washington Post article by Carolyn Johnson, we were struck by the magnitude of the potential merger between Aetna and CVS. It has the potential for better health outcomes and recognition of the importance of place in every aspect of our lives. The distinct possibility to enhance the overall healthcare experience by linking a person’s physical and social situation with their zip code is huge. Ms. Johnson presented the Aetna chief executive’s vision of the merger consistent with what we as geographers and geospatial specialists intuitively know, that location alongside lifestyle impacts health.
But that’s just us. What about the person who isn’t a data scientist, cyber-security expert or health information professional grinding through millions of records from actuarial tables, electronic health records, claims and clinical data trying to find that elusive needle in the haystack? What if you’re simply a sick person trying to get healthy or a healthy person trying to stay that way? It may be you’re simply hoping to find the most knowledgeable and most informed healthcare provider available to you and your family. So how do we get there when there is general concern about data collection or an unwanted intrusion into our private information?
Relating “place” and “intangible” insights like environment and behavior of people to a zip code rather than focusing on any single individual maintains anonymity and takes some pressure off the debate about how intrusive companies should get when trying to keep you healthy. At the same time there is little debate that healthcare needs to get smarter in order to lower costs while increasing healthy outcomes. Understanding the link between geography and environmental factors allows decision-makers to present better health plans, provide more effective services and ultimately be held more accountable to the populations they serve.
Location alongside lifestyle impacts health, identifies health gaps and reduces health disparity amongst different socio-economic levels across populations. While it might seem a bit scary in a world where data breaches are seemingly an everyday occurrence, the more your health provider knows about your environment the more effective they will be at keeping you healthy.
By Greg Reinecke and Scott Stafford ©2018 GeoDimensional Decision Group LLC