A growing body of research has employed mobile technologies and geographic information systems (GIS) for enhancing health care and health information systems, but there is yet a lack of studies of how these two types of systems are integrated together into the information infrastructure of an organization so as to provide a basis for data analysis and decision support. Integration of data and technical systems across the organization is necessary for efficient large-scale implementation.
The aim of this paper is to identify how mobile technologies and GIS applications have been used, independently as well as in combination, for improving health care.
The electronic databases PubMed, BioMed Central, Wiley Online Library, Scopus, Science Direct, and Web of Science were searched to retrieve English language articles published in international academic journals after 2005. Only articles addressing the use of mobile or GIS technologies and that met a prespecified keyword strategy were selected for review.
A total of 271 articles were selected, among which 220 concerned mobile technologies and 51 GIS. Most articles concern developed countries (198/271, 73.1%), and in particular the United States (81/271, 29.9%), United Kingdom (31/271, 11.4%), and Canada (14/271, 5.2%). Applications of mobile technologies can be categorized by six themes: treatment and disease management, data collection and disease surveillance, health support systems, health promotion and disease prevention, communication between patients and health care providers or among providers, and medical education. GIS applications can be categorized by four themes: disease surveillance, health support systems, health promotion and disease prevention, and communication to or between health care providers. Mobile applications typically focus on using text messaging (short message service, SMS) for communication between patients and health care providers, most prominently reminders and advice to patients. These applications generally have modest benefits and may be appropriate for implementation. Integration of health data using GIS technology also exhibit modest benefits such as improved understanding of the interplay of psychological, social, environmental, area-level, and sociodemographic influences on physical activity. The studies evaluated showed promising results in helping patients treating different illnesses and managing their condition effectively. However, most studies use small sample sizes and short intervention periods, which means limited clinical or statistical significance.
A vast majority of the papers report positive results, including retention rate, benefits for patients, and economic gains for the health care provider. However, implementation issues are little discussed, which means the reasons for the scarcity of large-scale implementations, which might be expected given the overwhelmingly positive results, are yet unclear. There is also little combination between GIS and mobile technologies. In order for health care processes to be effective they must integrate different kinds of existing technologies and data. Further research and development is necessary to provide integration and better understand implementation issues.