This study has formally evaluated methodologies, strengths and limitation of GIS and spatial analysis tools, and made recommendations for applying GIS and spatial analysis in future epidemiological research. We identified and retrieved published empirical studies from relevant electronic databases, including Medline/PubMed. We reviewed 74 articles on communicable and non-communicable disease that were published in 43 journals between 1985 and 2002. While the results show a significant increase in use of GIS and spatial analysis for epidemiological research over these years, the greatest increase has occurred in the last 5 years. Overall, the majority of GIS and spatial research papers were related to communicable diseases-especially vector-borne diseases (61%)-with 23% of studies being classified as non-communicable disease research. There were differences in spatial analytic characteristics (ie, study scales, spatial resolutions and study purpose etc) between studies of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Only a small number of studies used a spatial model (9.5%) or spatio-temporal model (3.1%). Few studies applied Remote Sensing (RS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) technology (1.8%). Dynamic mapping, GIS visualisation, RS/GPS and spatio-temporal modelling are some of the more recent cutting-edge research tools and are likely to be increasingly applied in future epidemiologic research.
School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology