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Geocoding the Health Impacts of Your Neighborhood

Ever wonder what effect the pollution you're exposed to in your neighborhood on a daily basis is having on your family's long-term health? The emerging field of geo-medecine is providing answers, reports Christine MacDonald.
May 24, 2012, 2pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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MacDonald profiles the work of Bill Davenhall, a health-care manager with the geographic information systems software developer Esri, and a pioneer in the emerging, yet controversial, field of geo-medicine, which "uses GIS mapping to correlate environmental conditions to health risks like heart attacks and cancer."

Born out Davenhall's desire to find the link between the pollution he'd been exposed to throughout his life and his health troubles, his work has resulted in a free iPhone app, "to help people map their lifetime environmental exposures," and an ongoing project with Loma Linda University Medical Center, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, to geo-code patient address records, among other initiatives. 

The potential of geo-medicine seems promising: "it can zoom in on a patient's life to create a geographically enhanced medical history. Or it can zoom out to give public health officials, city planners and activists detail-rich insights on how to improve the well-being of entire communities."

However, not all are as optimistic about the value of geo-medicine as Davenhall. "Some doctors are skeptical. They question the value of tracking pollutants that, say, cause lung cancer, when there is currently no preventative screening to catch cases before symptoms appear. Other critics expect it will lead to more lawsuits. Privacy concerns have also been raised," writes MacDonald

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Published on Thursday, May 24, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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