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Towards evidence-based, GIS-driven national spatial health information infrastructure and surveillance services in the United Kingdom

DOI: 10.1186/1476-072x-3-1

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"A new wave of technological innovation is allowing us to capture, store, process and display an unprecedented amount of information about our planet and a wide variety of environmental and cultural phenomena. Much of this information will be 'geo-referenced' – that is, it will refer to some specific place on the Earth's surface. The hard part of taking advantage of this flood of geospatial information will be making sense of it, turning raw data into understandable information."– Former American Vice President Al Gore [1]Geography plays a major role in understanding the dynamics of health, and the causes and spread of disease [2]. The classic public health triad composed of man, agent/vehicle and environment emphasises the importance of geographic location (environment or space where we live) in health and disease. Interactions within this triad can also change with time.Today's health planners aim at developing health policy and services that address geographical and social inequalities in health, and therefore should benefit from evidence-based approaches that can be used to investigate spatial aspects of health policy and practice, and evaluate geographical equity (or inequity) in health service provision [3].Besides policy development, and provision and management of health services, public health practitioners have other important and related tasks including prioritisation of interventions and programmes, responding to health alerts and concerns, intersectoral engagement, and community development initiatives. In all these tasks, they should strive to incorporate searching and using best evidence in their everyday decision-making processes in order to minimise investment of efforts and funds in areas where there is solid evidence of no effect, or evidence of harm, or of poor cost-effectiveness. Evidence-based approaches can also highlight areas where the evidence may be less than reliable, requiring further assessment before expending large funds and efforts.

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