Spatial statistics help community-engagement researchers target geographical areas of greatest need


By: Jill Pease

While spatial statistics and Geographic Information Systems technologies aren’t often used in community-engagement research, they hold great potential for helping researchers know where to focus limited resources, say University of Florida researchers writing in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

“By utilizing spatial statistics, we can help focus outreach efforts, guide local health policy and optimize limited resources throughout North Central Florida,” said lead author Ms. Corrine W. Ruktanonchai, a research statistician at UF’s HealthStreet.

The UF team used the technology to identify cancer “hot spots” in Alachua County, Florida, that can be targeted by HealthStreet community health workers. Founded and directed by Dr. Linda B. Cottler, chair of the department of epidemiology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine, HealthStreet seeks to reduce health care disparities and improve access to research studies among people who are medically underserved by meeting residents out in the community and linking them to services and research opportunities.

In interviews with more than 6,000 residents, HealthStreet community health workers led by Mr. Darryl Pastor, found that more than 90 percent of respondents who are minorities or have a history of cancer expressed interest in participating in research, yet only 15 percent of those populations had actually participated in research.

“This study was borne out of the need to connect these individuals with opportunities to participate in research, as well as to link them to local health care resources, in a strategically optimized way,” Ms. Ruktanonchai said. “We wanted to send our community health workers to where they might have the biggest impact in the community.”

Using several spatial statistical techniques to analyze health data collected from 2,650 county residents, researchers found significant cancer hot spots among non-minorities in more urban areas throughout Alachua County. Among residents who are minorities, clusters were found in rural areas west and southwest of city limits.

Future research should expand these analyses throughout North Central Florida, incorporating methodologies that can quantify the uncertainty inherent in non-random sampling techniques, and using techniques to predict prevalence of disease, Ms. Ruktanonchai said.

“We would like to shift from description of the spatial landscape to a more proactive prediction of the landscape which can be used to help prevent disease,” she said.

In addition to Ms. Ruktanonchai and Dr. Cottler, PHHP’s associate dean for research and planning, the study team included Dr. Catherine Striley, a UF assistant professor of epidemiology and Co-Director of Health Street and Community Engagement, Dr. Deepa K. Pindolia, a senior research associate at the Clinton Health Access Initiative, and Dr. Folakemi T Odedina, a UF professor of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy.