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Community Health Surveillance

Health Monitoring Systems is working with public health and healthcare to advance the detection, characterization, and management of events that affect a community’s health.  We call our approach to advancing these techniques community health surveillance.

Since automated computer systems became popular for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating health-related data following 2001, numerous terms have been tossed about.  Biosurveillance, syndromic surveillance, and situational awareness are but a few.

By referring to the process as community health surveillance, we are keeping our eye on the ball (so to speak) and ensuring that we are focused on what is most important – monitoring and protecting the health of the public.

Start Where You Can Begin

The reports about the U.S. health information technology are all very consistent – it is beset with challenges that impede information sharing.

Ideally, these systems would report specific cases of reportable disease immediately, indicate general health conditions continuously, and provide feedback regarding changes in expected seasonal and environmental related issues.

In face of these challenges and the ideal, the question is “How to begin?”

The first step is connecting public health with healthcare and providing a common view of health conditions in the community.  By focusing on common, easily obtained data such as emergency department chief complaints, a view can be created quickly, in a cost effective manner.

Classically, collection of these early non-specific data would be referred to as syndromic surveillance.  And while they provide that functionality, strategically they are the first step in connecting healthcare to public health – and reaching the ideal.

A Matter of Priority

Community health surveillance starts with a common view, a picture of current health conditions. From there, it is a matter of priority what is to be addressed next.

This determination is made in view of what affects the health of the community.  The real question is, “What is the greatest concern to local public health and healthcare?”

The answer to this question varies based on the region and demographics of the area.

A common goal is to automate collection of reportable conditions, improving timeliness of reporting and lowering the effort required.  Others include increasing diagnostic data to support tracking of seasonal illness or potentially capturing environmental data to relate locale specific features to disease activity.

The goal is to build on the common view of the system with more specific data to reveal greater insights into health in the community.

From Data to Decisions

It is possible to be awash in data and information.  In order to have a clear understanding of what's going on within a community, data needs to be gathered, correlated, and analyzed as it is generated.  The output of these processes needs to then be provided to the appropriate personnel in a timely manner so that action can be taken.  This process is referred to as data-driven decision making. 

The goal of community health surveillance is to help share, organize, and analyze these data, providing actionable information to public health and healthcare.  The investment in time, energy, and resources pays off when the data gathered makes a difference to the people on the ground.