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  OCTOBER 29, 2010
Loma Linda Exchange with Japanese University Enriches GIS Program

Loma Linda University School of Public Health’s cooperative exchange with Japan’s Niigata University enhances the geographic information systems (GIS) capabilities of each school, while at the same time paving the way for possible improvements to health care in each country.

Since the two institutions formed a relationship in 2008, Loma Linda University has sent one student to Niigata University for three months to work on health care access in Niigata Prefecture. For the 2010–11 school year, a Japanese postdoctoral fellow is living in Loma Linda to further his GIS studies and work on improving hospital care in each country.

shobugawaDr. Yugo Shobugawa, a physician, also took his PhD studies in clinical epidemiology and virology at Niigata University. For the past six years, he has been a medical doctor at Yurin Hospital, located in adjoining Fukushima Prefecture. During the last two years, he worked with hospital infection control. He and his family arrived at Loma Linda on August 9.

His specific aim while here is to apply GIS to a project with Loma Linda University Medical Center; developing an application that will serve as an additional tool in tracking and stemming the spread of infections that patients can acquire while hospitalized. Examples of organisms causing such illnesses are Clostridium difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

"We are hopeful that by implementing GIS at the Medical Center, we will be able to add a visual element to the current infection control program," said Ms. Londa Gregg, infection control analyst.

Dr. Shobugawa wants to take the tools they develop back with him to Yurin Hospital—and beyond. "I have hoped to put such a system into practical use for several years," he said. "I would like to apply it in many places. Even in Japan, of course, I hope it becomes practical in every hospital."

At Loma Linda University, Ms. Gregg will collaborate on the project with Dr. Shobugawa. She is now taking the GIS certificate program after her interest in the subject was piqued by a GIS emphasis in her MBA studies at the University of Redlands. Her curiosity prompted her to contact Mr. Seth Wiafe, academic director of the health geoinformatics program, about the potential for GIS to be used at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

"My interest in GIS is a little unorthodox, as I am looking at what is happening inside the building," she says, "where historically GIS has been used relating to geographic location on a map."

The project Ms. Gregg and Dr. Shobugawa are doing will help employees at the Medical Center who are visual learners.

"We cannot see infectious agents, but we can visualize them by using GIS," Dr. Shobugawa said. "Visualization is easily understandable and convincing. It can make people’s behavior change."

Based on the knowledge he acquires, Dr. Shobugawa also hopes to do future work with stemming fatal infectious diseases in developing countries.

ndatimanaLast school year, the exchange with Niigata University went in the other direction. The School of Public Health sent student Mr. Theogene Ndatimana to Japan for three months in late 2009. Drawing on his training in GIS, he helped conduct a study on which of two government hospitals in Tokamachi City should be closed due to budget constraints—while causing the least negative impact to residents.

In doing so, Mr. Ndatimana and his Japanese colleagues studied spatial factors such as hospital location, city layout, population distributions, and patient travel routes. They also had to consider the assets of the two hospitals in terms of size, equipment, hours and health services offered. Weighing all the factors, they recommended closure of Matsudai Hospital. Using GIS, they also studied how the other hospital’s services could be most efficiently delivered to residents across the city without compromising their health.

"This offered me an opportunity to apply the knowledge I have acquired at Loma Linda University to real-life cases that may, in the future, improve people’s lives," said Mr. Ndatimana, who has since graduated in June 2010 with an MPH in environmental and occupational health.

The health geoinformatics program at Loma Linda began in 1996 when the School of Public Health taught the first graduate-level GIS course offered by a U.S. school of public health. Today, the program offers a GIS certificate and several master’s-level tracks of study. For more information, click here.

[Photo #1: Dr. Yugo Shobugawa works in his Loma Linda office.]

[Photo #2: Mr. Theogene Ndatimana during his three months in Japan in 2009.]