Our History

For over 70 years, CDC has used the best available science and data to make public health decisions.  Our commitment to ensuring those core tools are both timely and of the highest quality goes back just as far. Today, the Deputy Director of Science and Surveillance leads this work. The work of the Deputy Director and staff continues – and builds upon – progress made by the Office of Public Health Scientific Services (OPHSS).

Public Health Surveillance: Preparing for the Future

Learn more about our ongoing work to improve surveillance and data at CDC.

Extending the Possibilities of Science and Surveillance

CDC’s expertise in science extends beyond one issue and one approach. The factors affecting our health are wide-ranging—from inefficient or underfunded systems, to new and changing health threats, natural disasters, bio-terrorism, access to healthcare, and the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases and drug overdoses. These issues require strategic thinking, new ideas, flexibility, and readiness to connect across disciplines.[1] Having strategic CDC leadership charged with those tasks has helped drive practical approaches to address present—and anticipate future—public health challenges. It also helps ignite and incubate new research and projects that are furthered by other parts of CDC and outside partners.

Why it Matters

Today’s landscape requires thinking beyond traditional approaches of collecting and sharing health information and statistics. We need accurate and timely data that direct decisions, technology that keeps pace with our need for speed, and research that reaches across CDC and beyond.

As the nation’s health protection agency, it is important to connect across CDC’s Centers, Institutes, and Offices (CIOs) to allow the agency to be more responsive and effective when dealing with public health concerns. Connecting and communicating CDC’s scientific priorities as a whole has been critical in finding efficiencies, leveraging resources, and tackling tough problems that need wider agency participation.

Work produced through the Office of Public Health Scientific Services has set a strong foundation for our future focus, and has included the following activities and accomplishments:

Improving Surveillance and Data Platforms

We oversee CDC’s Surveillance StrategyCdc-pdf as an agency priority. This cross-agency effort responds to requests from multiple stakeholders, including Congress, state public health leaders, and federal advisory committees asking for the development of a new surveillance strategy. This step-wise approach is improving the technology and value of our health information, beginning with states.

We bring experts together to solve problems and create innovative solutions to advance the fields of public health data, statistics, informatics, surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory practices, and workforce development.

  • The CDC Deputy Director for Public Health Scientific Services chairs the CDC Surveillance Leadership Board, which is accountable to the CDC director. The board reviews, guides, and oversees the evolution of CDC surveillance systems to optimize resource investments devoted to existing and emerging surveillance systems.
  • Every CDC Center, Institute, and Office (CIO) participates on the board. Workgroups across the agency have been established to drive select priorities from standardizing data elements across surveillance systems to reducing costs.

As part of CDC’s Surveillance Strategy, we launched a consortium for fostering and sharing creative solutions to surveillance challenges that are unique to public health.

  • Since the strategy’s inception in 2014External, every CIO at CDC has participated in this forum with direct involvement by 94 different CDC groups and programs and about 30 outside organizations.
  • Examples of projects include, reducing data collection burden on healthcare providers to deliver surveillance data, studying early warning systems for disease transmission along national borders, developing an App to report stroke cases, and developing new ways track antibiotic resistance in foodborne pathogens.

To modernize information technology supporting disease tracking and control, we initiated a Surveillance Data Platform with a set of core shared services within CDC. Launched in 2016 as an outcome of CDC’s Surveillance Strategy, this platform is dedicated to making disease tracking more efficient through the use of cloud-based technology. The platform is a multi-phase initiative with the first set of shared services scheduled to be released in 2017. When the platform is fully realized in 2020 it will reduce the number of different ways CDC asks for the same type of information from health departments, and as a result, decrease the burden on partners to send and use data.

As a cross-cutting office, we’re interested in new advances, such as the use of big data and the new field of visual analytics. We work at the forefront of promoting advanced visualizations and visual analytics to improve decision making around public health.

  • As part of this effort, we identified a traveling exhibit, Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, curated by the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center at Indiana University and worked to bring it to the David J. Sencer CDC Museum. Alongside the exhibit we organized lectures and trainings to help CDC managers develop visualizations to improve decision making in their own program areas.

Connecting Public Health and Healthcare

We identify approaches for increasing the use of electronic health recordsCdc-pdfExternal (EHRs) as part of an integrated strategy to improve reporting from both clinicians and public health practitioners and better link information that can be used by multiple users.

  • With the proliferation of disease outbreaks and the need for fast access to patient health data, EHRs are critical to successful management of patient care. Hospitals and health professionals need information in electronic format that is available quickly to make well-coordinated clinical decisions that improve overall health.
  • With healthcare adoption of EHR, interoperability between public health and healthcare is essential for public health surveillance. We are working with the Digital Bridge Initiative, bringing together public health, health IT developers and health systems in a multi-jurisdictional approach to electronic case reporting (eCR). This is a valuable tool that reduces the burden of public health reporting of infectious diseases, while improving the timeliness, accuracy, and completeness of data. Early detection of cases allows for earlier intervention, diminished transmission of disease, and improved detection of outbreaks.
  • We are using the HL7 data standards such as Clinical Document Architecture (CDA) and Fast Health Interoperability Resources (FHIR)Cdc-pdfas potential solutions for exchanging healthcare data electronically.

We work at the intersection of public health and healthcare, namely in clinical guidelines, clinical decision support, and clinical quality measures, driving a cross-agency approach.

  • Much can be gained by reducing the time it takes to apply clinical guidelines in patient care and identifying public health data to support measures to improve clinical quality. We are working with CDC programs to solve problems that stand in the way of progress. A first step is by applying new methods for more collaborative decision making and continuous improvement that work across multiple stakeholders. Learn more >>

Putting Data to Work

We study and assess CDC’s investments by identifying and categorizing CDC’s surveillance landscape, examining our workforce and support to partners, and tracking these resources over time.

  • The agency hosts multiple surveillance systems that span a spectrum of health conditions and risks factors that fall into four broad categories: infectious diseases; non-infectious health conditions; both infectious and non-infectious health conditions; and risk factors and exposures. The majority of CDC resources go to state and local health departments.
  • We are in the process of assessing CDC’s surveillance-related workforce as well as grants going to state and local health departments. This information will help us identify and fill gaps in the skills needed to modernize surveillance systems. These analyses will also serve as a guide to better target surveillance resources and create efficiencies without losing quality.

Informing New Research

We track hard to solve public health problems, like disparities in rural health affecting the 15% of all Americans who live in rural areas.

  • We have overseen the creation of the first-ever MMWR Rural Health Series, coordinating with experts committed to studying health effects of this important population. We have expanded the reach of this series by collaborating with other federal agencies, participating in national webinars and conferences, and fostering relationships with other journals that are publishing commentaries linked to the articles in the series.


[1] Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Connecting health and care for the nation: a 10-year vision to achieve an interoperable health IT infrastructure. https://www.healthit.gov/sites/default/files/ONC10yearInteroperabilityConceptPaper.pdfExternal. Accessed August 9, 2016.

Page last reviewed: February 15, 2019