Epworth finds healthcare black spots with geospatial analytics

When it came time to find the best location for its new Melbourne-area hospital, private healthcare group Epworth Healthcare turned to geospatial analytics to find the most underserviced area and deliver exactly the services its population requires.
Written by David Braue, Contributor

An investment in geospatial data analysis has provided a significant improvement in decision-making as healthcare group Epworth HealthCare scoured the state of Victoria for the ideal location and services mix for a new private teaching hospital.

The choice of site for the $447m facility – which will be built next to Deakin University in the Melbourne satellite city of Geelong and will rival the group’s major facility in inner-Melbourne Richmond – came after the group’s planning heads teamed up with geospatial group MapData Services to conduct an extensive analysis of demographic and medical services across Victoria.

That analysis involved sourcing a range of data including Australian Bureau of Statistics figures around population growth and demographics, details of currently available health services, and the geographical distribution of particular types of conditions.

Epworth Geelong's service mix was determined through demographic and historical analysis of patient needs. Image: Epworth Healthcare.

The latter data set was pulled from the records of Epworth’s existing facilities in Richmond and suburban Camberwell, with years of patient address data – separated from any identifying information to protect patient privacy – fed into the system to model the geographic spread of Epworth patients over the years.

In the past, “we had always looked at these files in Excel and gone through reams and reams of numbers to make these decisions,” Lisa Smith, group manager for business opportunity and development, told ZDNet Australia. “It’s harder to picture it when it’s in a table, but it’s a lot easier when it’s on a map. You can quickly identify the highest use areas, and those areas where there are large numbers of patients but few hospitals.”

Data was fed into a geographical information system (GIS) and colour-coded to highlight significant trends across the region.

Once the MapData work in combining and mapping the myriad data sources was complete, it quickly became clear that Geelong represented a significant vacuum in terms of healthcare availability.

Drilling down into the map data also revealed which types of conditions were most prevalent in the area – revealing, in the process, which types of services would need to be provided from the new facility. This information has since informed the design and specification of the new project, which represents a significant element of the group’s 20-year planning vision.

Cassandra Barker, general manager of MapData, said that while the use of geospatial analysis had long ago become common in public health authorities, it was relatively recently that private health groups were warming to the value of the technique in proactive service planning.

“Traditionally in government health organisations, they would have whole departments to do this,” she said. “Their level of maturity is very high. Whereas when you start talking about private health organisations, they don’t typically have the technical expertise inhouse.”

The MapData team analysed a “significant” amount of data to inform Epworth’s work, she said, and the decision-making fuelled by the results – the site represents a massive investment in Geelong and will substantially expand Epworth’s business – reflects the growing importance of GIS-based data mapping in optimising service delivery.

“It’s becoming a tool that people are aware of, and that they would like to use,” Barker said. “It’s just now starting to really be incorporated into some of the private health sector’s business systems and reports. Depending on the level of maturity with mapping and analysis, they often uncover more than what they thought they were going to.”

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