Using Global Positioning Systems in Health Research: A Practical Approach to Data Collection and Processing

Am J Prev Med. 2011 Nov;41(5):532-40. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.07.017.


The use of GPS devices in health research is increasingly popular. There are currently no best-practice guidelines for collecting, processing, and analyzing GPS data. The standardization of data collection and processing procedures will improve data quality, allow more-meaningful comparisons across studies and populations, and advance this field more rapidly. This paper aims to take researchers, who are considering using GPS devices in their research, through device-selection criteria, device settings, participant data collection, data cleaning, data processing, and integration of data into GIS. Recommendations are outlined for each stage of data collection and analysis and indicates challenges that should be considered. This paper highlights the benefits of collecting GPS data over traditional self-report or estimated exposure measures. Information presented here will allow researchers to make an informed decision about incorporating this readily available technology into their studies. This work reflects the state of the art in 2011.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / instrumentation
  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Equipment Design
  • Geographic Information Systems*
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Services Research / methods*
  • Humans
  • Research Design