DoD–VDH Data-sharing Pilot
The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) maintain local ESSENCE systems to monitor the health status of their military and civilian populations, respectively. In June 2018, DoD and VDH collaborated on a pilot project to develop processes for data sharing, data access, and communication. Their goal was to develop best practices that states could use to share syndromic surveillance data with DoD using ESSENCE through CDC’s National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP).
For the first time, DoD and civilian syndromic surveillance data were visible within the same system, at the same time. Epidemiologists at VDH observed DoD operations and could see potential reportable-condition cases that might not be reported to local public health authorities. DoD participants observed disease trends outside an installation, gaining information that could better prepare military health personnel to respond to outbreaks and emerging infectious disease.
Overall, the pilot strengthened their working relationship and provided the opportunity for collaborative public health surveillance and response. In one instance, for example, a DoD public health practitioner alerted colleagues at the local health department of an outbreak of influenza-like illness at an elementary school on the military installation. Through data sharing, DoD and VDH visualized the event and monitored it in the context of other illnesses affecting the local community. VDH and DoD supported the school by monitoring influenza-like illness in the surrounding county and by recommending control measures.
DoD and VDH continue to share post-pilot data and have regular discussions about NSSP data. Once DoD transitions to the next version of ESSENCE, DoD health practitioners plan to expand data sharing to other states. The ability to view DoD and civilian health encounter data in the same system is a monumental step in responding promptly to outbreaks and emerging infectious disease that affect civilian and military populations.