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Designing Healthy Communities
Health Geoinformatics Laboratory opens International Symposium on Healthy Communities

diagram of human circulation systemThis article as a PDF .

Esri and LLU will jointly host the first Designing the Healthy Community international invitational symposium. The meetings are intended to bring together the best minds in public health to share new ideas about using GIS to make the world a healthier place. The inaugural event is planned for 2010 and will be held at both the Loma Linda University campus and Esri's Redlands headquarters.

A new center at a Southern California university will help students learn how to use GIS to better understand and improve human health across the world.

The new Health Geoinformatics Laboratory at Loma Linda University (LLU) in Loma Linda, California, has two instruction rooms. They are equipped with computers and GIS software including Esri's spatial statistical tools for public health epidemiology, specialized logistical software for optimizing health care delivery, and geographic digital dashboards that enhance health informatics. It will provide undergraduate and graduate students with hands-on experience in applying modern information system technologies that combine maps and satellite imagery with data about the geographic locations of diseases, health care resources, and sociodemographic characteristics of communities.

LLU has been a pioneer in the field of health geoinformatics. Geoinformatics employs specific tools and techniques for acquiring, analyzing, and presenting geospatial data. Health geoinformatics applies these tools to data about location, demographics, and the environment to improve public health.

In 1996, the school's faculty designed and taught the first graduate-level GIS course offered at a school of public health in the United States. Two years later, LLU also became the first U.S. university to offer a bachelor's degree in health geographics. A graduate-level certificate in health geoinformatics, designed to complement existing degrees or provided as professional continuing education, was offered beginning in 2004. Three GIS tracts—Global Health and Development, Business Administration, and Environmental Health—have since been added.

LLU, a Seventh-Day Adventist health-sciences education institution, has eight schools with more than 55 programs and more than 4,000 students. Currently, undergraduate students at LLU can pursue a bachelor of science degree in public health, health geographics, and biomedical data management, and graduate students can obtain certificates in health geoinformatics and specialized offerings in areas such as environmental health, global health and development, and spatial epidemiology.

The lab is a critical part of the university's objective to connect with the world and think about problems in a different way. Esri president Jack Dangermond observed that the new lab will combine great talent in health science education with emerging talent in technology in the geospatial field. "We are moving from the position of using geographic information systems to describe the world to help us take responsibility for the future of our world. This center will participate in that evolution of designing our future and participating in building a healthier world."

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