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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Towards Web-based representation and processing of health information

Sheng Gao1*, Darka Mioc1, Xiaolun Yi2, Francois Anton3, Eddie Oldfield4 and David J Coleman1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

2 Service New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

3 Department of Informatics and Mathematical Modelling, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark

4 New Brunswick Lung Association, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2009, 8:3  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-8-3

Published: 21 January 2009

Abstract

Background

There is great concern within health surveillance, on how to grapple with environmental degradation, rapid urbanization, population mobility and growth. The Internet has emerged as an efficient way to share health information, enabling users to access and understand data at their fingertips. Increasingly complex problems in the health field require increasingly sophisticated computer software, distributed computing power, and standardized data sharing. To address this need, Web-based mapping is now emerging as an important tool to enable health practitioners, policy makers, and the public to understand spatial health risks, population health trends and vulnerabilities. Today several web-based health applications generate dynamic maps; however, for people to fully interpret the maps they need data source description and the method used in the data analysis or statistical modeling. For the representation of health information through Web-mapping applications, there still lacks a standard format to accommodate all fixed (such as location) and variable (such as age, gender, health outcome, etc) indicators in the representation of health information. Furthermore, net-centric computing has not been adequately applied to support flexible health data processing and mapping online.

Results

The authors of this study designed a HEalth Representation XML (HERXML) schema that consists of the semantic (e.g., health activity description, the data sources description, the statistical methodology used for analysis), geometric, and cartographical representations of health data. A case study has been carried on the development of web application and services within the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI) framework for community health programs of the New Brunswick Lung Association. This study facilitated the online processing, mapping and sharing of health information, with the use of HERXML and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) services. It brought a new solution in better health data representation and initial exploration of the Web-based processing of health information.

Conclusion

The designed HERXML has been proven to be an appropriate solution in supporting the Web representation of health information. It can be used by health practitioners, policy makers, and the public in disease etiology, health planning, health resource management, health promotion and health education. The utilization of Web-based processing services in this study provides a flexible way for users to select and use certain processing functions for health data processing and mapping via the Web. This research provides easy access to geospatial and health data in understanding the trends of diseases, and promotes the growth and enrichment of the CGDI in the public health sector.