Medical Spy: Conducting Health Surveillance

If you are given the opportunity to conduct health surveillance, how do you plan to do it? Before accomplishing any task, it is a good idea to do some homework to get the background information.

According to the top medical spy in the United States (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), surveillance is the on-going, systematic collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of data regarding a health-related event for use in public health action to reduce morbidity and mortality and to improve health.

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Why spend so much effort to gather such information? Is there any value to this? Are we going to generate some big bucks out of this? Will we be able to “assassinate” our top enemy in health ?

The global leader in health surveillance give a positive tone about this matter. WHO clearly listed 3 applications of the health information. 

First, serve as an early warning system for impending public health emergencies. If there is any pandemic of avian/swine flu going on in any parts of the world, WHO will ring the alarm and tell you to wear mask and take necessary precaution.

Second, document the impact of an intervention, or track progress towards specified goals. There are many health projects going on in the health industry, for example, TB short course treatment and HIV prevention. Health surveillance functions as the report card to indicate how successful are certain treatments or health promotion.

Third, monitor and clarify the epidemiology of health problems, to allow priorities to be set and to inform public health policy and strategies. By charting the prevalence of certain diseases, the epidemiologist can detect any increase in number disease (epidemic/outbreak).

After learning the usage of health surveillance, let’s look at the various forms of health surveillance.

1. Universal case reporting – a surveillance system in which all cases of a disease are supposed to be reported

2. Sentinel surveillance – a surveillance system in which reports are obtained from certain facilities or populations

3. Laboratory-based reporting – a surveillance system in which the reports of cases come from clinical laboratories instead of healthcare practitioners or hospitals

4. Passive surveillance – a system in which data generated without solicitation, intervention or contact by the health agency carrying out the surveillance. Other agencies initiate reporting.

5. Active surveillance – the organization conducting surveillance initiates procedures to obtain reports

To get the necessary data, where shall you install your spying camera? Here are the place to extract the health info.

  • Mortality reports
  • Morbidity reports
  • Reports of individual case investigations
  • Reports of laboratory utilization (including laboratory test results)
  • Special surveys (e.g., hospital admissions, disease registers, and serologic surveys)
  • Information on animal reservoirs and vectors
  • Demographic data
  • Environmental data

This is the brief intro about health surveillance. Get your spying kits ready, and we shall examine the health system in details.

References: WHO Health Surveillance

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