The Ministry of Health has launched a website that allows health agencies and the public to zoom in on mapped areas of New Zealand and study the health state of communities.
The Public Health Observatory developed by the Ministry’s Public Health Intelligence unit, provides detailed disease and mortality information using aggregated population data so individuals cannot be identified.
Officially launched this week, the site is funded by the Ministry through the Institute of Environmental Science and Research and hosted by geographical information system supplier Eagle Technology.
The Ministry’s Health Information Service provides hospitalisation, mortality, and cancer registry information. Statistics NZ provides geographical census data and the Wellington School of Medicine provides a NZ “socio-economic deprivation index”.
Ministry senior adviser of health geoinformatics, Dr Chris Skelly, said the aim of the system is to support public health decision makers and provide a consistency so that everyone in public health is working from the same up-to-date information.
Another goal was to provide this information to the general public to promote public awareness and debate. “We have millions and millions of dollars worth of data but it’s trapped. You get this bottleneck with professional analysts not being able to do enough analysis,” said Skelly.
Health organisations can stream the data to their desktop computers where they can use ESRI ArcGIS software to analyse it in far greater detail. Many organisations have this software already, but a free viewer called ArcExplorer is also available.
Skelly said the system has been kept generic by leaving Ministry and sponsors’ logos off. This is so if other organisations such as ACC or Plunket want to join they can utilise the work that has been done.
The system builds on experience gained creating the Public Health Early Warning (PHEW) system for communicable diseases in 1998.
Skelly said the Public Health Observatory project cost was in “six figures” but was only 10 per cent the cost of a similar project in Canada that was eventually canned. A source told the Herald the cost was around $100,000.