Q&A with Bill Davenhall on Medical Place History, TEDMED, and the Importance of a Story Well Told

A little more than a year ago, ESRI’s Bill Davenhall delivered a thought-provoking talk at TEDMED about the importance of including a “place history”—a record of the places where a person has lived (and the nearby environmental risks)—as part of that person’s medical history. (Watch a video of Davenhall’s talk here.)

ESRI, based in Redlands, CA, is the world’s largest developer of geographic information system (GIS) software, and at its annual conference in July, ESRI unveiled its first GIS mobile mapping app for the iPhone and iPad, which is free. ESRI also highlighted related “crowdsourcing” initiatives that extend its mapping technology beyond its usual Windows-based market.

Last week, ESRI added a new app to the Apple iStore and to its Web-based offerings that begins to fulfill the vision that Davenhall outlined at the 2009 TEDMED conference in San Diego. (ESRI used its proprietary ArcGIS technology to develop the mapping API for mobile devices running Apple’s operating system.)

The app, which also is available on ESRI’s website, is pretty simple to use. You can enter the address, zip code, or even just a city name for every place you’ve lived, and the system responds with information about public health and environmental hazards for each location. The app draws upon publicly available data concerning the incidence of heart attacks (per 100,000 Medicare enrollees) from the Dartmouth Atlas Project, and lists of chemicals within three miles, according to data drawn from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory and the National Institutes of Health’s known chemical database. ESRI spokesman Bob Ruschman says, “Future versions will include additional databases for water quality, lead contamination, cancer, mortality, and poverty.”

Bill Davenhall

Bill Davenhall

As ESRI’s global marketing manager for health and human services, Davenhall contends that a patient’s place history is just as important in assessing human health risks as genetics and lifestyle. In a medical evaluation, Davenhall says physicians will ask a lot of questions about a patient’s medical history: Any allergies? Taking any medications? How about illicit drugs? Drink alcohol? Smoke tobacco? Any previous hospitalizations? Davenhall says doctors never … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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