SSG Blog

Public Health Surveillance Systems: What Are They & How Do They Work?

Posted on May 12th, 2022   |   SSG

Keeping the public healthy requires surveillance. From infectious diseases to the latest health trends, state, local, and federal governments regularly collect, analyze, and track health-related information to improve public health. Policymakers and physicians use this information to protect individuals from illness and disease. Surveillance requires the ongoing coordination of various departments, healthcare facilities, and data analysts. Various groups work together to create an accurate portrait of the health of the nation. 

Many organizations face hurdles when reporting the latest disease metrics to public health agencies, especially when using outdated databases and reporting systems that aren’t compatible with the latest reporting requirements. These organizations can update their reporting systems to streamline the data collection and reporting process. 

Learn more about public health surveillance systems and how they are used today. 

What Are Public Health Surveillance Systems?

Public health surveillance involves the systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of health-related data. This can include tracking the number of cases of a particular disease, how various health problems affect the public, what kinds of individuals are most likely to contract the disease, and how infections can be prevented. Contact tracing solutions are often part of this surveillance.

This information is vital for protecting the health of the nation. Public policy experts use these findings to implement policies that can help prevent various diseases and conditions. Individuals and private organizations may be required to abide by these guidelines. These changes ultimately keep individuals from getting sick or infected. This leads to a healthier, more productive society while reducing the strain placed on local healthcare systems. 

How Do Public Health Surveillance Systems Work?

The system is made up of various government agencies, epidemiologists, and healthcare providers that report on the latest health trends and conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is responsible for tracking the spread of diseases in the U.S.

Private companies and individual healthcare providers will typically share their latest findings with the government. Data analysts will then compile this information into a comprehensive report. It may be focused on a particular disease or trend, or it can examine the overall health of the nation. Their findings influence public health policy on a national level. It is then up to state, local, and federal governments to decide how to act on this information. 

Surveillance is ongoing. The government consistently tracks diseases and trends to see how they compare over time. Once the number of cases or infections drops, policymakers may eliminate certain public health policies. Diseases and viruses also tend to evolve over time. Symptoms may become more severe, or the disease may become more transmissible. The government will track these changes to ensure that they are implementing the right policies.

Public health and disease surveillance systems rely on a wide range of sources and assets when compiling their reports. Any information related to public health may be included to give clinicians and public policy experts a better sense of what’s happening on the ground.  This includes infection rates and disease cases from individual providers. Many analysts will also look at digital assets, such as social media, web forums, and other public digital spaces to learn more about how certain health trends are playing out in real-time. Providers will then use these digital channels to distribute accurate health information to ensure that people can protect themselves. 

Government and public health agencies are starting to automate the data collection process to increase efficiency and widen their scope. Automated health reporting tools and public health software solutions often draw from a range of sources to increase accuracy. The system will automatically generate reports and share them with the proper individuals, avoiding information bottlenecks, so they can inform the public as soon as possible. 

Key Factors to Consider When Updating Your Organization’s Record System

Health networks and facilities often rely on electronic lab reporting systems that aren’t compatible with public health databases. Workers will then need to manually upload this data to the public health database, which is time-consuming and prone to human error. Companies can upgrade their disease surveillance reporting systems to automate the submission process. Managers and executives should consider the following when evaluating their reporting systems:

1. Data Collection and Compatibility

Disease surveillance data is usually stored in disparate silos of information that aren’t compatible with other reporting systems, including those used by the CDC and other public health agencies. Facilities should use automated reporting tools that automatically collect information from various sources to streamline the reporting process. Workers can then manually manipulate the data before sending off the report to the agency in question.

2. Process Learning Technology

Public health information is made up of vast quantities of data, which needs to be coalesced into a unified public health database. But every facility and provider has their own way of recording clinical information. Automated surveillance reporting solutions use natural language processing to interpret and analyze unstructured information from various sources, including patient notes, forms, documents, and other types of medical records, so users can quickly report this information to the proper authorities. 

3. Usability and Security

Companies should also consider the user’s ability to check and manipulate data as needed throughout the reporting and data collection process. The program should allow the user to go back in and fix missing or incomplete fields before sending off the report to the government. Users may also need to enter credentials in order to access these records for privacy reasons. Administrators should be able to adjust the permissions settings accordingly to protect sensitive information. 

Public health surveillance is about communication. Policymakers need to act fast when an outbreak occurs. Automatic alerts and reporting tools keep officials in the know as the situation continues to evolve. A small change in the data can have a major impact on public health. 

The government is responsible for informing the public about the latest diseases and conditions. We are all used to sharing data in the digital world. And public health is no exception. Reporting on the latest health issues will keep all of us from getting sick. Companies should keep this information in mind when updating their reporting systems to keep vital information flowing.