Geospatial technology, or geographic information systems (GIS), has become an essential tool in healthcare.The technology is at the heart of contact tracing, symptom monitoring, virus hotspot prediction and quarantine alert systems, with more projects like this currently underway Medical Application Development And it will be put into operation soon.
Let’s take a look at the prominent GIS applications implemented so far and their impact on the future of geospatial technology and society in general.
contact tracing app
Contact tracing is a routine public health practice used to trace close contacts of an infected person to prevent further disease spread.
The first adopters of contact tracing systems chose to use GPS-based proximity detection. This type of mobile healthcare app continuously logs the owner’s location data and transmits it to a public health database for analysis and contact identification.
When someone they have been in close contact with for a long time tests positive for the virus, owners are notified when and where the exposure occurred, but personal details are not revealed.
From a technical point of view, using GPS for contact tracing proved to be a wise decision as it is a proven low-cost solution used in several modern applications. It determines location with moderate to high accuracy based on conditions. Third, adopting it requires very little time and effort.
Quarantine Alert System
If the virus spreads primarily through close contact with infected people, countries around the world have taken steps to limit the movement of confirmed and potential carriers, often placing them in mandatory quarantine areas.
While some governments rely solely on the accountability of their citizens to remain isolated, others take a trust-but-verify approach and introduce manual or automated control mechanisms.
One such mechanism is geofencing. Geofence alert systems help authorities spot quarantine violators in near real time.
The way they work is simple and efficient: Authorities set up virtual boundaries around places where people are quarantined and alert authorities if their phones or wearables cross the border.
Authorities claim the information collected is confidential and used strictly for health management purposes, but the geofencing system still raises some privacy concerns as it only applies to operators using mobile services from private telcos.
The best-known global initiatives include disease maps and dashboards that provide near real-time insights into population movement patterns and symptom displays, enabling accurate predictions of virus spread and timely action.
In the context of COVID-19, contact tracing has become a mainstay of the global response to the virus. Still, these processes need to be automated and simplified to make a difference. The earliest and hardest-hit countries by the outbreak, China, South Korea and India, were the first to roll out contact-tracing apps; Australia and countries in the Middle East and Europe followed closely behind.
However, many governments choose not to use GPS tracking due to serious civil liberties concerns. In spring 2020, two major alternatives to GPS were developed: the Singapore-developed BlueTrace protocol using Bluetooth low energy and centralized reporting processing, and Google and Apple’s exposure notification system using a combination of Bluetooth, cryptography, and decentralized technologies Report processing.
The most famous app of this kind is China’s post-lockdown color health code system, but there are others that use geospatial technology to track quarantine breakers.
An app launched in the Indian state of Gujarat is equipped with geofencing and GIS mapping technology, allowing the government not only to spot quarantine violations, but also to track the whereabouts of self-quarantined and violators.
Taiwan’s digital fencing technology identifies a person’s location based on proximity to the nearest cellphone tower, which authorities say is less intrusive to privacy.
Hong Kong relies on a different privacy-preserving geofencing technology. Once in town, everyone needs to download the StayHomeSafe mobile app and wear an electronic wristband.
The app samples communication signals in an individual’s home, such as Wi-Fi, cellular, and Bluetooth, and creates a unique residential signature. When the app doesn’t receive a signal, it alerts the government of quarantine violations.
Google, Facebook and Apple have developed proprietary mobile dashboards that use the anonymized location data they often collect from users.
Google’s and Apple’s regional mobility reports are based solely on data from Google Maps and Apple Maps, respectively, while Facebook’s mobile data network pairs location data with census data and satellite imagery.
In addition to this, Facebook conducted a nationwide selective survey of user symptoms to compile a county-by-county COVID-19 symptom prevalence map.
Delphy Research Group’s COVIDcast dashboard is an even better example of an interactive COVID-19 tracker map. COVIDcast shows real-time information on cases and deaths, as well as doctor visits, symptoms and Google search trends across the U.S., detailing data down to metro areas.
With all information taken from official sources, COVIDcast is an accurate solution for tracking and predicting spikes and drops in disease transmission.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, geospatial technology has risen to unprecedented heights, evolving from a niche solution to one applied on a national and global level.
Reliable and affordable, it’s become the go-to choice for many governments to trace contacts of people infected with coronavirus, ensure quarantine compliance, and understand the spread of the disease in real time.
Some states are even jumping at the opportunity to adopt emerging GIS technologies, and their efforts seem to have paid off.
Despite the extraordinary results of geospatially-powered coronavirus applications, only time will tell if GIS-powered systems are actually valuable for containing the virus and helping society recover from the pandemic.
But one thing is clear even today—if the government wants to incorporate any such solutions into its public healthcare toolkit, it will require significant improvements to existing data use policies and privacy protections.