GEOGRAPHIC MEDICAL HISTORY: ADVANCES IN GEOSPATIAL TECHNOLOGY PRESENT NEW POTENTIALS IN MEDICAL PRACTICE
Keywords: Air pollutants, Disease risk factors, Environmental epigenetics, Environmental exposure, Geographic Medical History, Hippocrates, Mold spore, Particulate Matter (PM)
Abstract. Genes, behaviour, and the environment are known to be the major risk factors for common diseases. When the patient visits a physician, typical questions include family history (genes) and lifestyle of the patient (behaviour), but questions concerning environmental risk factors often remain unasked. It is ironic that 25 centuries ago Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, noted the importance of environmental exposure in medical investigation as documented in his classic work, “Airs, Waters, Places”, yet the practice of routinely incorporating environmental risk factors is still not in place. Modern epigenetic studies have found that unhealthy lifestyle and environmental factors can cause changes to our genes that can increase disease risk factors. Therefore, attempting to solve the puzzle of diseases using heredity and lifestyle alone will be incomplete without accounting for the environmental exposures. The primary reason why environmental exposure has not yet been a routine part of the patient’s medical history is mostly due to our inability to provide clinicians useful measures of environmental exposures suitable for their clinical practices. This presentation will discuss advances in geospatial technology that show the potential to catalyse a paradigm shift in medical practice and health research by allowing environmental risk factors to be documented as the patient’s “Geographic Medical History”. In order to accomplish this we need information on: a) relevant spatiotemporal environmental variables, and b) location of the individual in that person’s dynamic environment. Common environmental agents that are known to interact with genetic make-up include air pollutants, mold spores, pesticides, etc. Until recently, the other component, location of an individual was limited to a static representation such as residential or workplace location. Now, with the development of mobile technology, changes in an individual’s location can be tracked in real time if necessary. Technological advancements in the areas of estimating environmental agents and identifying locations of individuals at flexible spatio-temporal scales now present the potential of a paradigm shift in clinical practices by incorporating “Geographic Medical History” into determining disease risk factors.