Spatial autocorrelation among automated geocoding errors and its effects on testing for disease clustering
Automated geocoding of patient addresses is an important data assimilation component of many spatial epidemiologic studies. Inevitably, the geocoding process results in positional errors. Positional errors incurred by automated geocoding tend to reduce the power of tests for disease clustering and otherwise affect spatial analytic methods. However, there are reasons to believe that the errors may often be positively spatially correlated and that this may mitigate their deleterious effects on spatial analyses. In this article, we demonstrate explicitly that the positional errors associated with automated geocoding of a data set of more than 6000 addresses in Carroll County, Iowa are spatially autocorrelated. Furthermore, through two simulation studies of disease processes, including one in which the disease process is overlain upon the Carroll County addresses, we show that spatial autocorrelation among geocoding errors maintains the power of two tests for disease clustering at a level higher than that which would occur if the errors were independent. Implications of these results for cluster detection, privacy protection, and measurement error modeling of geographic health data are discussed. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.