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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    Report Document No. 23
    PUBLICATION YEAR 2011

    Document Title
    An Evaluation of Opportunities for Developing a Network for Geospatial Health Research

    Author
    Secretary of Health and Human Resources; Secretary of Technology

    Enabling Authority
    Chapter 679 2. (Regular Session, 2010)

    Executive Summary
    As directed by Senate Bill 549 (SB549) from the 2010 General Assembly session, this document reports the collaborative findings of the Secretaries of Health and Human Resources (SHHR) and Technology evaluation related to “opportunities to partner with nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth to develop a network for geospatial health research.” Report preparation activities and all associated meetings and data compilation was conducted jointly by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) – Office of Epidemiology and the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) – Virginia Geographic Information Network (VGIN).

    Staff from both VDH and VITA – VGIN met jointly with relevant Secretariat staff to determine the scope and implementation plan for the evaluation process. Staff from each agency were identified to assume lead/coordination activities and to ensure continuity and collaborative efforts. The overall implementation plan included three components: 1) a survey of institutions of higher education; 2) an assessment of VDH program areas; and 3) an assessment of relevant non-profit organizations.

    The evaluation included a survey of Virginia’s publicly funded academic institutions known to be involved in geospatial health research and GIS-related education and training. These institutions were asked to assess needs related to geospatial health research and overall views related to the various aspects of SB549.

    A review of VDH programs with experience in GIS-related activities, staffing, hardware/software capacity and GIS-related grants was also conducted. This review provided an indication of the overall level of GIS infrastructure and geospatial capabilities within the agency. Issues involving the management and use of public health geospatial datasets outside of VDH were considered, including the impact from a legal and data confidentiality perspective.

    An assessment of existing non-profit organizations in Virginia with GIS experience was also conducted. Two organizations were identified: Virginia Health Information (VHI) and the Virginia Network for Geospatial Health Research, Inc. (VANGHR). Meetings were conducted with the Executive Directors from both organizations. Senator George Barker, SB549 patron, also attended the VANGHR meeting as a Board member.

    Excerpt from Findings and Recommendations:
    *See (page 34) for complete text*

    Report Finding 1:
    Neither VDH nor VGIN have a comprehensive listing of faculty and staff at Virginia’s institutions of higher education with professional interests in spatial health research.

    Recommendation:
    The VDH and VGIN should create a master list of all known health-related GIS faculty and staff at Virginia’s institutions of higher education. This list should be used by VGIN and VDH to expand collegial relationships, form the basis for future GIS listservs, discussion groups, and partnership development, and ensure dissemination of relevant GIS-related funding and research opportunities.

    Report Finding 2:
    The Commonwealth of Virginia should consider development of a spatial data clearinghouse for use in furthering the scientific understanding of health and healthcare issues impacting the residents of Virginia.

    Recommendation:
    The VDH and VGIN should consider partnering together for development of a health-related spatial data clearinghouse. Additionally, any health-related data clearinghouses developed as part of the Virginia Health Reform Initiative should contain geo-spatial data whenever possible. Consideration of existing infrastructure under development for the VGIN clearinghouse should be reviewed to determine feasibility of use. Issues involving patient confidentiality and data security must take precedence and be thoroughly reviewed. Feasibility of state agency development should be reviewed prior to any discussion involving non-government entities.

    Report Finding 3:
    Collaborations and networks of staff from Virginia’s institutions of higher education, state agencies (VDH and VITA/VGIN) and non-profit organizations currently exist.

    Recommendation:
    Because staff from all three types of institutions already work together on numerous GIS initiatives, the Secretaries of Health and Human Resources and Technology do not believe a codified approach to developing a network for geospatial research is necessary for the continued expansion of geospatial health research.

    Report Finding 4:
    Virginia’s colleges and universities have faculty and staff with expertise in GIS technologies, including public health research activities. VDH and VGIN staff possess varied GIS expertise, including public health research, spatial data management, and IT-related skillsets. Existing non-profit organizations possess GIS expertise related to public health contracting, spatial data management, analyses and IT-related skillsets.

    Recommendation:
    The majority of university faculty, VDH and VGIN staff and non-profit organization staff involved in routine GIS activities do not appear to need substantial technical assistance. The continuing development of collegial GIS networks should assist other staff that desire technical assistance or training advice.

    Report Finding 5:
    A system of peer review related specifically to GIS research was not viewed positively by the majority of university staff. Academic faculty and staff have published many peer reviewed articles, including those related to public health GIS topics.

    Recommendation:
    The process of peer review is performed by specific journal editorial committees. These entities have established experts in the related fields of practice whom they call on to review manuscript submissions. In many cases, additional peer review would likely not provide sufficient added value to the process. Hence, a system of peer review is likely a redundant and unnecessary activity.

    Report Finding 6:
    Infrastructure related to GIS software is provided by all academic institutions surveyed. All academic institutions, related state agencies (VDH and VGIN), and both non-profit organizations use ArcGIS products from ESRI.

    Recommendation:
    Given that all related entities use the same vendor for GIS software (pursuant to a Virginia state contract), it is unnecessary to be concerned about supplying GIS infrastructure support. If questions arise regarding infrastructure, the ESRI helpdesk will be the likely source of contact. Additional questions or advice can be obtained from well-qualified VGIN staff.

    Report Finding 7:
    Hardware infrastructure for both VDH, VGIN and related state agencies is supplied through the VITA-Northrup Grumman public-private partnership. Virginia’s universities maintain hardware infrastructure independently. Non-profit organizations maintain their own hardware, and also collaborate with VGIN for use of web-based GIS functionality.

    Recommendation:
    Hardware infrastructure operates under differing auspices among universities, state agencies and non-profit organizations. Before considering development of any alternative hardware infrastructure outside of the state information technology framework, the existing state hardware infrastructure of VDH and VGIN must first be examined for its ability to meet the hardware infrastructure needs for any proposed geospatial network.

    Report Finding 8:
    Many academic faculty and staff desire access to additional health-related data, including spatially-enabled data. Access to such data will require a thorough review of existing laws, and data security and confidentiality processes.

    Recommendation:
    The efforts related to development of a spatial data clearinghouse (Recommendation 2) should provide a forum for improved data access. However, data security and confidentiality standards and policies will be imperative to ensuring such access is used appropriately, based on existing laws and records management policies. VDH and VGIN staff should work together on the development of security and confidentiality procedures pertaining to spatially-enabled data elements. Such procedures should be shared with and followed by universities and non-profit organizations that maintain or use any VDH-specific data or for those entities that desire access to personally identifiable information.