Geocoding of place names for collecting, mapping, managing, and communicating public health information
Lash, Robert Ryan
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Despite significant advances and widespread adoption of geospatial information science and technology (GIS&T), place names continue to be important in public health. This dissertation includes three different applications of GIS&T to public health problems, and finds that place names remain a dominant way of collecting, mapping, managing, and communicating public health information, despite the ubiquity of GPS and mobile computing in our everyday lives. The first study examines the variation in geocoding results of historic monkeypox surveillance data stored as village place names depending on the type of geocoding methodology employed. This study highlights that digital gazetteers remain limited for geocoding in many international locations, and that archival maps can improve the accuracy of geocoding results considerably. The second study examines the types of place names travelers and clinicians use to describe international travel itineraries, and shows that there is a need for more innovative GIS&T-based applications to enable travelers and clinicians to more easily find location-based travel health recommendations. The third study takes up the challenge of developing and deploying a GIS&T-enabled travel recommendation service so that United States travelers and clinicians can find accurate and up-to-date Zika virus travel health recommendations for any international destination. This case study demonstrates that interactive mapping technology which utilizes the latest web-based geospatial data, software, and services can address the needs described in the second study above. More specifically, that web-based geocoding services can enable people to easily search for and find relevant travel health recommendations using a range of place names. Though the solution described meets the current needs for the Zika virus outbreak, this study points out that geospatial capacity needs to be more broadly distributed and improved within public health programs if similar types of applications are to be developed for other diseases. This dissertation contributes to the understanding of the current GIS&T capabilities and needs within applied public health, and should serve to encourage others with expert GIS&T knowledge to explore further collaboration and research opportunities within applied public health.