The Public Health Informatics program at MU conducts demographic research that allows people with HIV/AIDS to pinpoint the locations where health care is available and to identify the locations that focus on their specific needs, whether they need a dentist, a case worker or any other service.
MU professor Chris Fulcher is leading this research with Catherine Kaukinen of the University of South Carolina.
“Right now in information technology, we have far more data than we can use,” Fulcher said. “We need to focus on how to use the data we have.”
The informatics program uses computers to convert statistics into maps so people can see where others live and what resources are available to them.
The research looks at information in layers. For example, Fulcher can first generate a map of a specific region. That map is the first layer.
Then, he can include information showing the population density of people with HIV/AIDS in each county, making the second layer.
Finally, he can add a third layer showing medical facilities that treat people with HIV/AIDS.
All of this information can appear on a single map, showing where people with HIV/AIDS are living and how easily they can reach treatment facilities. Information about factors such as transportation routes and income level can be included to make an even more detailed picture.
“It’s a very powerful tool — visualization,” Fulcher said.
The project is still a work in progress. Because the data is still geared toward other researchers and policy makers, it can be difficult for people without any background in the area to use. Fulcher would like to take the next step in the process and make the information more user friendly.