Tag Archives: University of Saskatchewan

Geothoughts 5: Helping Bring Equitable Access to Healthcare to All Canadians

This week's Geothoughts podcast examines how spatial data can be used to improve access to healthcare for all Canadians.

This week’s Geothoughts podcast examines how spatial data can be used to improve access to healthcare for all Canadians.

By Drew Bush

We’re very excited to present you with our fifth episode of Geothoughts. You can also subscribe to this Podcast by finding it on iTunes.

This episode features a look at how spatial data can be used to improve access to healthcare for all Canadians. In it we talk with Scott Bell from the Department of Geography and Planning at University of Saskatchewan.

Thanks for tuning in. And we hope you subscribe with us at Geothoughts on iTunes. A transcript of this original audio podcast follows.


This week we sit down with Professor Scott Bell from the Department of Geography and Planning at University of Saskatchewan to discuss his research using geospatial data to help create better healthcare access for all Canadians.

[Geothink.ca theme music]

Welcome to Geothoughts. I’m Drew Bush.

“From a GIS, GIScience perspective, I sort of went extreme in the access to location, or the location aspects of access. So looking at the arrangements of doctors just to get a sense of, just at the physical level, is there an equitable arrangement of doctors. And we know pretty clearly that that’s not true across Canada, at different scales and at the scale of the nation.”

To draw this conclusion, Bell brings a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) perspective to the context of a broad variety of areas of interest in human health. For example, he has collaborated on interdisciplinary health, environmental, and social science research that uses both public and private data.

“My interest in health really has broadened areas of interest to look at access to a variety of things that effect our health.”

This year alone he has worked with the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Dentistry and also examined the accessibility of Canadian food in terms of finding healthy eating options. But collecting such data can sometimes be onerous work owing to the fact that different provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons have varying standards for their data, he must collect population data from Statistics Canada for comparison, and sometimes he might even collect his own data using surveys to gain insight.

“So we integrate data across a variety of sources, mostly publicly available not always in the sort of true and honest definition of open data…We collect our own sometimes using telephone surveys of people to get an idea of what’s controlling or what’s affecting their access to healthcare.”

What’s important is figuring out what particular issues might impact how people access doctors. These include aspects of a given doctor’s services, such as the number of patients they take, or the personal concerns of the consumer or patient.

“We as just members of the public when we look for a doctor, access can be affected by our own personal opinions, or beliefs, or worldviews, or preferences. So if I prefer to be seen by a male doctor and my neighborhood is filled with female doctors, a physical measure of access might show that there are lots of doctors near me and I should have great accessibility. But I’m not willing to see any of those doctors.”

[Geothink.ca theme music]

[Voice over: Geothoughts are brought to you by Geothink.ca and generous funding from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.]


If you have thoughts or questions about this podcast, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.

Studying Public Transport Behavior By Accident: Lessons Learned from A Graduate Class in Computer Science with Scott Bell

Saskatchewan's bus lockout lasted one month (Photo courtesy of wn.com).

Saskatchewan’s bus lockout lasted one month (Photo courtesy of wn.com).

By Drew Bush 

Sometimes the best research grows out of collaboration and study within the confines of a classroom. For Scott Bell, an associate professor of Geography and Planning at the University of Saskatchewan, a graduate class in computer science provided just such an opportunity.

The past few years, Bell has collaborated with a colleague in Saskatchewan’s Department of Computer Science, Kevin Stanley, to teach a research-based class that gives students hands-on experience using an Android application for smartphones to measure human behavior at 2-minute intervals. Specifically, the application uses a phone’s accelerometer, GPS, camera, Bluetooth and other sensors to monitor participants’ movements and behaviors.

Last fall, students in the class wanted to examine health beliefs and constructed a survey to administer to participants before the phones were given out. Unrelated to the class’s planned content, the City of Saskatoon locked out its bus drivers, resulting in a month-long transit lockout. The lockout began two weeks before class started.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen during the shutdown,” Bell said. “But during our design stage we included in our survey a series of questions about how the participants get to work, and all of our participants were students at the [University of Saskatchewan]… Do they prefer to take public transit? Are they regular transit users? That kind of thing.”

Afterwards, Bell’s class gave these participants the phones and tracked them for a month—with the lockout ending two weeks into this period. Bell and Stanley’s students could then look at how student movement patterns and behaviors changed during and after a time period in which public transport was unavailable.

“It was interesting,” Bell said. “And one of the main findings, was that there wasn’t a change in attendance. So when the strike, when the lockout was on, everybody was still coming to the university at about the same rate as they came after the lockout ended, so when transit was fully available again.”

However, Bell and Stanley’s students noticed that when the lockout ended student trips to and from school actually became quite a bit shorter. They hypothesized that when their participants were forced to find alternate means of transportation they often relied on friends with private vehicles or on their own car.

This new reliance on private vehicles made additional trips, like running errands, possible on the way home thanks to the flexibility they allow compared to public transit. While not yet confirmed in this research, Bell calls this type of behavior “trip-chaining,” an idea often mentioned in transportation geography. Once the lockout ended and these participants returned to public transport, such behavior ended.

“We did learn in this study that we could use this technique to study transit behavior and we’re thinking a little bit more about that,” Bell said. “About how we can maybe do that with some of the Geothink partners that have more open data policies regarding their transit data and transit use.”

If Bell and Stanley’s students had only examined student attendance rates and arrival times at University of Saskatchewan, then they might have concluded the lockout had little affect on student behavior. However, by using surveys and smartphones, this technique established how stressful it was for students and, perhaps most importantly, how behaviors actually changed on the ground.

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.

Decision-Making with Uncertain Data

Professor Scott Bell

Director, The Spatial Initiative

University of Saskatchewan

117 Science Place, Saskatoon, SK S7N 3C8

Governments have long provided their citizens with high quality data through centralized services. Generally, these are collected as a population census with an additional and more detailed sampled survey. In Canada, the former is known as the short form census and the latter was called the long form until 2010. The short form provides an accurate count of the total population at the time of the census, while the long form has provided more detailed information about our people. In Canada, the census is collected every 5 years by Statistics Canada (StatsCan), an agency of the federal government. In 2010 an Order in Council altered the past practice of a simultaneous short and long form census to a separate short form and National Household Survey (NHS). The primary difference between the NHS and the long form is that the NHS is not mandatory, whereas the long form was compulsory by law. There have been concerns from many different stakeholders about the value of the NHS as a statistically valid and reliable representation of Canada’s people. StatsCan is not alone in transitioning to a different detailed data collection tool. The US Census has changed the way it collects such data as well; with the introduction of the American Community Survey (ACS). In doing this, they have switched from a decennial short and long form census to a decennial short form census and an annual detailed survey (the ACS). This research will contextualize the introduction of the NHS in Canada with the ACS in the United States.