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Two Ways Health Informatics May Save Lives this Summer

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

By now summer is in full swing. Beach parties, vacations, cookouts and summer camp are all welcome diversions from the day-to-day.

But summer also brings a host of health hazards, from heat stroke to increased skin cancer risk. Here are two ways health informatics will be used to save lives this summer.

Mapping Heat Vulnerability

Phoenix, Arizona has even Houston beat on heat. Average highs are in the 100s from June through September.

In 2015, researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Saskatchewan underwent a study to determine if those in Phoenix at potentially higher risk of heat stroke could be predicted through national heat vulnerability data [1].

While one might expect the presence or absence of air conditioning in the home to be a predictor of hospitalization, the study found that it was not a significant factor—most likely because of the high rate of homes with air conditioning in Phoenix. Heat-related illness often occurs while spending time outside, and so education needs to take place regarding its warning signs and dangers.

The study identified several hot-spot neighborhoods with high heat-related hospitalization rates. The trends are corroborated by other studies’ findings that indicate that low-income populations—as well as children, the elderly and those impacted by diabetes—are at higher risk.

Understanding Melanoma Incidence

Annually, 50,000 Americans receive a melanoma diagnosis, a disease that is responsible for more than 7,500 deaths each year.

We have long known of the relationship between sun exposure and melanoma, but in 2010 researchers from Orlando, Philadelphia, Fort Collins and Beijing collaboratively used population data and satellite data to deepen understanding of how ultraviolet-B radiation exposure contributes to melanoma incidence [2].

The study discovered regional differences in cancer incidence, even when the same amount of exposure was observed. While the differences may, at least in part, be caused by lifestyle, climate, genetic heterogeneity and other factors, some factors can be mitigated. By further educating populations in at-risk regions regarding the association between UV and melanoma and the importance of sunscreen, we may be able to reduce exposure and melanoma rates, improving health and saving lives.


[1] Chuang WC, Gober P. 2015. Predicting hospitalization of heat-related illness at the census-tract level: accuracy of a generic heat vulnerability index in Phoenix, Arizona (USA). Environ Health Perspect 123:606-612; http://dx.doi.org1/1289/eph.1307868

[2] Chang NB, Feng R, Gao Z, Gao W.2010. Skin cancer incidence is highly associated with ultraviolet-B radiation history. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 213:359-368.