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      Propagation of program control: A tool for distributed disease surveillance


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          The purpose of the study was (1) to identify the requirements for syndromic, disease surveillance and epidemiology systems arising from events such as the SARS outbreak in March 2003, and the deliberate spread of Bacillus anthracis, or anthrax, in the US in 2001; and (2) to use these specifications as input to the construction of a system intended to meet these requirements. An important goal was to provide information about the diffusion of a communicable disease without being dependent on centralised storage of information about individual patients or revealing patient-identifiable information.


          The method applied is rooted in the engineering paradigm involving phases of analysis, system specification, design, implementation, and testing. The requirements were established from earlier projects’ conclusions and analysis of disease outbreaks. The requirements were validated by a literature study of syndromic and disease surveillance systems. The system was tested on simulated EHR databases generated from microbiology laboratory data.


          A requirements list that a syndromic and disease surveillance system should meet, and an open source system, “The Snow Agent system”, has been developed. The Snow Agent system is a distributed system for monitoring the status of a population's health by distributing processes to, and extracting epidemiological data directly from, the electronic health records (EHR) system in a geographic area.


          Syndromic and disease surveillance tools should be able to operate at all levels in the health systems and across national borders. Such systems should avoid transferring patient identifiable data, support two-way communications and be able to define and incorporate new and unknown diseases and syndrome definitions that should be reported by the system. The initial tests of the Snow Agent system shows that it will easily scale to national level in Norway.

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          Most cited references42

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          What is syndromic surveillance?

          Innovative electronic surveillance systems are being developed to improve early detection of outbreaks attributable to biologic terrorism or other causes. A review of the rationale, goals, definitions, and realistic expectations for these surveillance systems is a crucial first step toward establishing a framework for further research and development in this area. This commentary provides such a review for current syndromic surveillance systems. Syndromic surveillance has been used for early detection of outbreaks, to follow the size, spread, and tempo of outbreaks, to monitor disease trends, and to provide reassurance that an outbreak has not occurred. Syndromic surveillance systems seek to use existing health data in real time to provide immediate analysis and feedback to those charged with investigation and follow-up of potential outbreaks. Optimal syndrome definitions for continuous monitoring and specific data sources best suited to outbreak surveillance for specific diseases have not been determined. Broadly applicable signal-detection methodologies and response protocols that would maximize detection while preserving scant resources are being sought. Stakeholders need to understand the advantages and limitations of syndromic surveillance systems. Syndromic surveillance systems might enhance collaboration among public health agencies, health-care providers, information-system professionals, academic investigators, and industry. However, syndromic surveillance does not replace traditional public health surveillance, nor does it substitute for direct physician reporting of unusual or suspect cases of public health importance.
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            Is Open Access

            Syndromic Surveillance and Bioterrorism-related Epidemics

            To facilitate rapid detection of a future bioterrorist attack, an increasing number of public health departments are investing in new surveillance systems that target the early manifestations of bioterrorism-related disease. Whether this approach is likely to detect an epidemic sooner than reporting by alert clinicians remains unknown. The detection of a bioterrorism-related epidemic will depend on population characteristics, availability and use of health services, the nature of an attack, epidemiologic features of individual diseases, surveillance methods, and the capacity of health departments to respond to alerts. Predicting how these factors will combine in a bioterrorism attack may be impossible. Nevertheless, understanding their likely effect on epidemic detection should help define the usefulness of syndromic surveillance and identify approaches to increasing the likelihood that clinicians recognize and report an epidemic.
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              Technical Description of RODS: A Real-time Public Health Surveillance System

              This report describes the design and implementation of the Real-time Outbreak and Disease Surveillance (RODS) system, a computer-based public health surveillance system for early detection of disease outbreaks. Hospitals send RODS data from clinical encounters over virtual private networks and leased lines using the Health Level 7 (HL7) message protocol. The data are sent in real time. RODS automatically classifies the registration chief complaint from the visit into one of seven syndrome categories using Bayesian classifiers. It stores the data in a relational database, aggregates the data for analysis using data warehousing techniques, applies univariate and multivariate statistical detection algorithms to the data, and alerts users of when the algorithms identify anomalous patterns in the syndrome counts. RODS also has a Web-based user interface that supports temporal and spatial analyses. RODS processes sales of over-the-counter health care products in a similar manner but receives such data in batch mode on a daily basis. RODS was used during the 2002 Winter Olympics and currently operates in two states—Pennsylvania and Utah. It has been and continues to be a resource for implementing, evaluating, and applying new methods of public health surveillance.

                Author and article information

                Int J Med Inform
                Int J Med Inform
                International Journal of Medical Informatics
                Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
                18 April 2006
                April 2007
                18 April 2006
                : 76
                : 4
                : 313-329
                [a ]Norwegian Centre for Telemedicine, University Hospital of North-Norway, P.O. Box 35, NO-9038 Tromsø, Norway
                [b ]Department of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø, Norway
                [c ]Department of Computer Science, University of Tromsø, Norway
                Author notes
                [* ] Corresponding author: Tel.: +47 95 74 80 49; fax: +47 77 75 40 98. johan.gustav.bellika@ 123456telemed.no
                Copyright © 2006 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

                Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active.

                : 9 December 2004
                : 8 November 2005
                : 16 February 2006

                distributed systems,epidemiology,population surveillance,disease surveillance,electronic patient records


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