Lesson 5: Public Health Surveillance
Summary, References, Further Reading, and Websites
Surveillance has a long history of value to the health of populations and continues to evolve as new health-related problems arise. In this lesson, we have defined public health surveillance as continued watchfulness over health-related problems through systematic collection, consolidation, and evaluation of relevant data.2 Data and interpretations derived from surveillance activities are useful in setting priorities, planning and conducting disease control programs, and assessing the effectiveness of control efforts. We have reviewed the identification and prioritization of health problems for surveillance; the need for a clear, functional definition of a health problem to facilitate surveillance for it; and various approaches for gathering data about health problems, including environmental monitoring, surveys, notifications, and registries. Sources of data are often available and used for surveillance at the national, state, and local levels.
We have described and illustrated basic methods for analyzing and interpreting data and have focused on time, place, and person as the foundation for characterizing a health-related problem through surveillance. Potential problems with surveillance data that can lead to errors in their analysis or interpretation have been presented. We have emphasized the importance of the timely, regular dissemination of basic data and their interpretation as a critical component of surveillance. These data and surveillance reports must be shared with those who supplied the data and those responsible for the control of health problems.
Critical to maintaining useful, cost-effective surveillance is periodic evaluation and implementation of recommended improvements. Stakeholders should be identified and included in evaluation processes; a clear description and diagram of surveillance activities should be developed; and the usefulness, resource requirements, and characteristics of optimal surveillance should be individually assessed. This lesson ends with examples of surveillance and recommendations for further reading.
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