Live from the ESRI User Conference in San Diego

Greetings from San Diego!  Stratasan’s GIS team has been participating in the annual ESRI User Conference this week, and we’ve seen some very interesting things!

While many Southern Californians have been having fun in the sun, we have been inside the San Diego convention center getting our hands dirty with the latest and greatest of what the GIS field has to offer!

On Tuesday we had the opportunity to sit down in multiple meetings with the ESRI Business Analyst product and data teams. As a Business Analyst user it was one of the best experiences in my GIS career to sit down and discuss our problems and issues with the people who can actually help and address them. We use Business Analyst and Business Analyst Online everyday, and by doing so we had more than a little bit of feedback, questions, and ideas. Getting a chance to voice these to the team in charge of the product was very gratifying.  The look on their faces when they realized that we were really onto something was quite gratifying as well!  The ESRI Business Analyst team gave us a look at both their products and their data updates and we were very excited to see what is coming down the pipeline.

Our GIS products at Stratasan are great, and this conference has done nothing but make me even more excited to improve the GIS resources for our customers. I am a big believer of always improving our GIS tools and services. After this conference our GIS products will be even better than they already are! After looking at the many geospatial products and opportunities currently out there makes me realize how far the science has come since I started off in the field in the fall of 2007. It also makes me realize how close to the bleeding edge of GIS Stratasan is! We are using this technology in ways nobody else has, and the fact that we have been so inspired here is only going to improve our product and make our customers even happier!


How GIS Helps the Future of Healthcare

What: Mapping Healthcare with GIS webinar
When: Wednesday, June 20, 12 noon Central (1 pm EST)
Who: Jason Haley, GIS Manager, Stratasan;  Dr. Devon A. Cancilla, Dean, Business & Technology, American Sentinel University
Webinar Registration Link:

Jason Haley will be leading this webinar to illustrate how GIS technology is integrated into Stratasan’s processes for improved strategic decisions in healthcare.

“Through the analysis of GIS data we can show clients not only patients and physicians, but also referring physicians, attending physicians and admitting physicians in the hospital,” says Haley. “This helps hospitals get a strategic plan in place for how they want to operate and move forward in the future.”

Thank you to American Sentinel University for reaching out to Stratasan for our participation.

Read this article for more details.  See you there!

Health Datapalooza – 3rd Place Finish

Stratasan was honored to be a part of this year’s Health Datapalooza in Washington DC with Todd Park and all of the great people in the healthcare data world.  One thing that everyone had to take away from their time spent there is that the movement is in full swing! Our ability as an community and industry to affect real progress in both health and healthcare is real! We met a lot of outstanding people performing work with lasting impact on our country’s healthcare system

Stratasan was invited to participate in the Apps Demo competition. Our founder and chairman, Tod Fetherling, weaved a story of how hospitals can know who their community is and how to best serve them in under 9 minutes using our cloud applications and our healthcare GIS capabilities.

The presentation was so well received by the panel members that we walked away with a 3rd place ribbon. An interesting note is we didn’t actually know there was a competition until the day before we were leaving for DC.

Once again we are honored to be playing a small part in this movement, and we look forward to progressing as a company and eagerly await the next innovations being made as we open up our access to health and healthcare data.

Legends, Titles, Scale Bars, and Sources in Healthcare Mapping




This post is the fifth in a five-part series (I. Projection, II. Base Maps, III. Color Selection, IV. Symbology, and V. Legends) which will look at various GIS tools and methodologies utilized by Stratasan.

Titles display the purpose of a map, scale bars display the distance on a map, and sources explain where the data used on a map originated, and legends identify the attributes on a map. All of these features are the important final touches on a map that make it readable and useful. They help the person looking at the map understand all of the various layers and attributes we have discussed in the previous posts in this series. The presentation of a map is the final, and essential, part of the map-making process.


The title of a map shows its purpose.  It tells the map reader what they are looking at and why. At Stratasan we like to center out titles and have them take up no more than two lines of text.  We like using a bold, easily readable font.

Scale Bars

Scale Bars help viewers visually understand the distances on a map. There are multiple ways to display scale on a map: a representative fraction (e.g. 1:32,000), a verbal scale (e.g. one inch to 10 miles), or a bar scale (which is like a distance ruler on the map). At Stratasan, we use a bar scale because it is an easy and effective way for map readers to perceive distance visually  does not require a strong knowledge of map scaling mechanics. Our standard is to place our scale bars at the bottom left of the map where they are easy to find and use, but are out of the way from the rest of the map attributes.

Data Sources

The data sources used for in creating the map should always be displayed on the final product. We use a small (10-12 point) font that shows where and from what year the data was derived. As with the scale bar, we place the source information at the bottom left of our maps. Map readers can find this information easily without it cluttering the map.


Legends display the meaning of the most important attributes on maps. Legends include the attributes on a map that are not inherently understood. Layers like roads, counties, or labeled icons are usually omitted from the legend since their meaning is evident.  Including these attributes would only take up room in the legend box. In our maps at Stratasan, we put the representative symbols of each attribute on the left side of the legend box and their definitions to their right. Ordering of attributes in the legend is of critical importance. Items should be ordered by their placement on the map and by their importance. They should also be organized to keep the profile of the legend box as small, and out of the way, as possible. Like the scale bar and data sources, we tend to place our legend box in the bottom left corner of the map.

It should be noted that we DO NOT use a North Arrow (Compass Rose) in our maps.  Almost all maps that are used are aligned north to south; we believe that a compass rose should be placed on maps only if north is not at the top of the map. The addition of a compass rose is almost always a distraction that takes away from the real purpose of the map.

Below we will look at some examples of the legends we use at Stratasan:

This map of graduated symbols representing patient revenue also displays roads and the location of Brentwood Medical Center. These two features don’t need to be explained, however, the patient revenue symbols do.  Therefore they are included in the legend. They are aligned top to bottom from lowest to largest revenue.  Since the values given do not explain the attribute, a “Revenue” header was included so that the map reader could better understand the meaning of the symbols being used.

When large amounts of information need to be displayed in a legend, like the one for this Medicare In-migration map, multiple columns of information within the legend box are usually needed. In this case, there are three columns of information. Although the Service Area attribute is the top layer, it is the least important attribute in the legend so it was moved to the last column. The four In-Migration attributes are of equal importance, but having all four of them stacked on top of each other would make the legend unsightly. For this reason, the four attributes were split into two columns and displayed in the order they appear on the map (with Brentwood’s In-Migration as the first item in the legend.)

This map of roads follows the same concept as the previous two maps except instead of displaying quantitative values, this map is displaying line attributes from most to least important. As above, this illustrates the concept of displaying the data in your legend from most important to least important attributes.

Titles, scale bars, sourcing, and legends are the final touches that we add to a map. This process is critically important when mapping healthcare patients, hospitals, service areas, and all the data that comes with them. If a map does not give the reader the information needed to understand what the map is displaying, the cartographer behind it has failed. At Stratasan, we take our GIS and cartographic responsibilities seriously.  The maps we make must be maps that our customer can read and comprehend quickly and easily. Without using the principles outlined in this series of posts, our maps would not be as effective and informative as they are today.

Healthcare Visualization: Symbology

This post is the fourth in a five-part series (I. Projection, II. Base Maps, III. Color Selection, IV. Symbology, and V. Legends) which will look at various GIS tools and methodologies utilized by Stratasan.

In this post we will discuss different types and styles of symbologies used in our maps at Stratasan.

Symbology is the combination of the color, shape, and size of attributes on a map. It is critically important in polygon, line, and point layers. Symbology is quintessential in making a map readable and in helping the information on the map be interpreted both easily and quickly. The symbology of attribute labels helps the map reader understand what locations are important and which locations are  most significant.  Without proper symbology, a great map can become completely useless.

Setting an attribute’s symbology and its order within the map layers is one of the last tasks in making a map. The ordering of these layers is important. Layers need to be organized in a way that allows the map reader to see them all at one time and to understand both what each individual layer is  showing and what boundaries are within and around each layer. Examples of Polygon, Line, and Point layer symbologies and ordering are presented below:

Polygon features have multiple working parts in their symbologies. The first part is  color (discussed in the Color blog post), but color by itself is not enough. Transparency of the feature enables  the map reader to see through the polygon layer to other features below it.  The location of polygon attributes within the layers of the map is another important part of polygon symbologies.. Polygon features should be placed closer to the base map so that line and point attribute layers (such as roads, boundaries, patients, and  facilities) can be placed on top of them and easily seen/interpreted by the map reader.

Line layers are a crucial part of any map, especially when you think of how many different kinds of lines need to be displayed. Differentiating these lines in clean and logical ways can be difficult, but it is not impossible. At Stratasan we use a variety of techniques to help keep the line features unique.  These include: line color, thickness, and multi-line features.

Line color is important in every layer, especially the line color within road and boundary layers.  The thickness of lines indicate a feature’s importance (The thicker the line, the more important it is). Multi-line features (for example the County layer in the map above) help differentiate the line types (The county lines have a dashed line through them to help distinguish them from the road layers).  Line features can also have certain levels of transparency, like polygon features, if the map reader needs to see what is underneath them.

When talking about the symbology of point layers there is a lot of echoing of the color post; make sure that colors can be easily differentiated and are not too bright or busy. Using symbols other than just circular points is important as well.  At Stratasan, we like to use squares (like the cities layer in the map below), triangles, icons (like the hospitals in the map above), or small pictures as point icons in out maps. By using these different types of point symbols we allow the map reader to look at many different points at once without cluttering the map and making it difficult to read.

Graduated symbols are point layers representing values of a point based on the size of the symbol around it. They are created around the points they represent.  When using graduated symbols, there needs to be large enough range of sizes or it will not be easy to distinguish the different values the layer is representing.

If you look back at the previous maps you will notice each uses a variety of labels.  These labels are important in showing the map reader where points of interest are located.  The color, size, and shading around each point indicate the level of importance of the labeled polygon/point/line. For example, the Brentwood Medical Center labeling throughout the maps shows that it is the most important point of interest. It has the largest font and is the only label that has black text with a white halo (which is the area of color around the text). Other, less important, but still relevant points of interest have a smaller white text with a black halo. This indicates that they are still worth looking at to the map reader, but their size and color tells them that they are of less relevance to the main point on the map, in this case Brentwood Medical Center.

Symbology is important on EVERY map. Without it, a map is virtually unreadable. At Stratasan, symbology is a vital component in the maps we make for our customers. A great symbology makes a map. Without an effective and atheistically pleasing symbology a map becomes confusing and unreadable. At Stratasan we always use the best symbology schemes possible for the customers we are serving. You can learn more at our website.

Healthcare Visualization: Effective Use of Color

This post is the third in a five-part series (I. Projection, II. Base Maps, III. Color Selection, IV. Symbology, and V. Legends) which will look at various GIS tools and methodologies utilized by Stratasan.

In this post we will discuss the colors and color schemes we use in our maps at Stratasan.

Color is an important part of any map.  It helps the map reader understand what is being presented, helps separate and organize different attributes, and draws the reader into the cartographic presentation.

We use various color schemes for our maps so map readers can easily identify and understand map variables without colors being confusing (or so bright that you would need sunglasses to look at them).  For polygon features with values we use shades of red or blue.  We use red because it is the color the human eye can most easily differentiate various shades of.  It allows people to see the various values easily and comprehend them on the map.  Blue also works well because it is a neutral color that has many of the same properties as the red color scheme.

The color of point data is also very important.  We use colors that are easily distinguishable from one another (especially if they are going to be displayed together on the same map).  Examples of point colors we use would include:  bright red, royal blue, orange, leaf green, golden-yellow, and a deep violet.  These colors look good together (or separate) on a map without drowning out base layers beneath them or distracting from other points on the map.  That being said, there are colors we avoiding using on point layers.  These would include: bright colors of any kind, colors that are combinations of two primary colors (such as yellow green, or red-orange), and any gray-scale color schemes (When displayed on a map they become confusing and overly complicated).  To see examples of point colors like the ones described you can order a Development Brief, Market Brief, or a Community Health Needs Assessment (Which you can see on the Stratasan website)!

This is an example of a map with a good color scheme.  The white background helps the colors in both the points and the trade polygon to be seen easily.  The red color of the trade area is not overwhelming on the eyes and easy to understand.  The gold points representing patients pop out of the map, are easy to see, and it does not distract the viewer from other parts of the map.

This map is a great example of a bad color scheme.  The olive background absorbs the point layer and conflicts with the trade area polygon.  The trade polygon itself is bright and distracts the map viewer from the rest of the map.  And finally, the ginger pink color of the patient points are distracting, conflict with the 0-75% area of the polygon, and blend into the streets layer and the olive background.

The ‘Patient by Payor’ map above is a good example of using multi-colored points.  They are large enough to see, pop out from the white background, and have a color scheme that makes each payor type easily identifiable.

This version of the same map above is an example of a bad color scheme: they blend together easily (in this case light tans, greens, and blues) and are hard to see apart from the dark gray background.

This ‘Revenue by Payor Type’ map is a good example of color and proportional symbols on a map.  The map reader can tell the colors apart from one another easily and they are 30% transparent, so the overlap of circles, streets, and landmarks underneath the circles can still be identified.

In this version of the same map, the circles are not transparent so they block a large portion of the map.  The person viewing the map is unable to see the landscape, streets, or overlap underneath the circles.  The color scheme also makes it hard to tell the payor types apart.  The light reds, oranges, tans, and greens blend into each other and make it look like there are three variables, instead of the six that are present on the map.


In the world of GIS and mapping there are almost unlimited options when it comes to the color schemes that are utilized in maps. The aforementioned color preferences are the best, but like most things in life: everyone is entitled to their own opinion. What we can tell you is that all the data and information you want can be put on a map, but if no one can read or interpret it, what’s the point? The color schemes we use at Stratasan are carefully chosen to make our maps the most readable and attractive as possible. This allows our customers to easily read and understand our maps, as well as share them with others throughout their organizational networks.

Healthcare Mapping: Behind the Scenes of Stratasan GIS (Part II) – Base Maps

This post is the second in a five-part series (I. Projection, II. Base Maps, III. Color Selection, IV. Symbology, and V. Legends) which will look at various GIS tools and methodologies utilized by Stratasan.

In this second entry we will discuss our uses for different base map layers in our GIS-based products.

Base maps are just that, the base layer that all other features are drawn over. The selection of a base map depends on the purpose of the map and what it needs to visualize. What combination of patients, hospital service areas, and other various healthcare attributes will be placed over it? Does the customer need to see political boundaries, bodies of water, roads, cities, and/or topography? Should the map features have color? Do these features need to be labeled? These are just some of the criteria that we address when choosing base maps for our customers. In the end, the one we choose is contingent on the purpose of that map and the preferences of our customers.

Below we will examine some of the base maps starting with those utilizing boundaries and labels and transitioning to maps displaying physical geographies:

The Business Analyst base map has a neutral tan background and shows major roadways, political boundaries, metropolitan areas, and parks.  Depending on the scale the map is zoomed into; various state, county, and other political boundaries turn on and off automatically.  The most important part of the Business Analyst base map is that it interacts with the rest of the Business Analyst tools.  This integration allows the Stratasan GIS team to geocode patient data, run detailed analysis on patient-based hospital market service areas,  and provide our customers with the best psychographic information available.

The Streets base map layer is useful because it displays roads and political boundaries as well as physical geography such as mountains, plains, and bodies of water of all sizes.  This combination makes it a great base layer for areas where political boundaries and the local environment are important (such as facilities next to lakes and rivers with limited crossings or areas separated by mountains). This is valuable when it is important for the map reader to understand the lay of the land or if the customer would like their maps to be aesthetically pleasing.

The Physical and Ocean base map layer has all the advantages of the Streets base map without the cluttering of political boundaries and labels.  This gives layers placed on top of it a cleaner look.  Another advantage is that the only labels that appear in a Physical and Ocean base map are placed there on purpose by the Stratasan GIS team.  Colors of the terrain also help the user look at general topography in both micro and macro views of the US, states, and cities.

The Shaded Relief map, my personal favorite, shows terrain in grey-scale and  displays bodies of water in a uniform light blue color.  It is a crisp map and helps accent many of Stratasan’s products without cluttering the background with terrain colors, various political boundaries, or labels.  The Shaded Relief base map maintains this clean and sharp look at all scale levels and serves as a great backdrop for point, line, and polygon features that we utilize in our healthcare mapping, market briefs, development briefs, and our Community Health Needs Assessment.  This base layer also shows the person viewing the map the lay of the land in great detail, especially in regards to elevations and the locations and sizes of almost all bodies of water.

The Bing Hybrid base map is a combination of Bing’s satellite imagery mapping, political boundaries, and labels placed on top of them.  This base map is useful in larger geographies (US, States, or large regions), but in smaller views it can get cluttered quickly with roads and buildings.  Any map with this level of detail always runs the hazard of being too busy, and the Bing Hybrid base map is no exception. However, it is a great base layer for maps of large areas with very little data in them (such as a selection of hospitals in a state or region).

The base maps we use at Stratsan are not the definitive collection of available base layers.  However, we believe that a balance of customer input and aesthetic qualities is important.  Different base maps work better for certain situations and presentations, and we are aware of it.  Our goal is for our customers to receive the best maps possible that inform and display the best available data.  We will continue to utilize new base maps and keep track of the ones that have worked well in the past.  All possible base map options are considered when we make cartographic decisions, and our GIS department is always on the lookout for new base layers that look great and help present our products in the best way possible.

Healthcare Mapping: Behind the Scenes of Stratasan GIS

This post is the first in a  five-part series (I. Projection, II. Base Maps, III. Color Selection, IV. Symbology, and V. Legends) which will look at various GIS tools and methodologies utilized by Stratasan.

Stratasan's Favorite Map Projection

When we make a healthcare map at Stratasan, we always start by selecting an appropriate map projection.  Stratasan’s maps are used to look at patients, hospital service areas, Community Health Needs Assessment, and other various healthcare attributes; it is of utmost importance to consider how our map readers will perceive them.  Map projections are important because they convert images from 3D surfaces on the globe to a flat 2D map surface.  This conversion always affects shape, area, distance, and distortion. Almost of all of our maps use the North American Equidistant Conic Projection. A projection that probably looks familiar to you.  Many maps of the United States use it, including the winner of the “Best In Show” award in this year’s annual Cartography and Geographic Information Society competition.

The reason this projection is a great choice because it balances shape and area distortion, especially in large middle-latitude areas (like the United States).  This means that the states’ outlines on the map are close to their actual shapes on the globe and that the distances between them are minimally distorted.  These two main factors of the North American Equidistant Conic projection make it great for healthcare mapping.  The patient, hospital, and service area maps we make at Stratasan are easy to read, understand and look crisp.  The North American Equidistant Conic projection is a great choice for making maps of the United States, especially when we are making maps for an audience that does not have a background in GIS and other cartographic-based skills.

Keep in touch for the rest of this five-part series. Our long-term goal is to showcase our GIS procedures, map products, and show you why our maps look like they do. The next installment will examine base maps we use when making our healthcare data maps.