Stories: Surveillance and Data in Action

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Read our stories and blogs to learn more about our innovative work, programs, collaborations, and people driving surveillance and data at CDC … and beyond

Data Modernization for COVID-19 and Beyond
COVID-19 monitoring disease burden, showing data collected in different areas

Because of data modernization, we are already in a very different place than we were before the pandemic. The gains made during the COVID-19 pandemic are now building a bridge to a new kind of surveillance and better approaches to public health data. Read examples that demonstrate the power and value of CDC’s Data Modernization Initiative for public health.

Medical professional speaking with a patient in front of a tablet

Data modernization improvements are strengthening public health action in communities. Read a few selected stories of modernization in jurisdictions, and learn how modernizing case surveillance, syndromic surveillance, and public health interoperability is leading to meaningful impacts for health.

excess deaths associated with COVID-19 with high and low fluctuation lines

In the United States, there have been hundreds of thousands of deaths attributed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. But CDC scientists suspect there may be more people who died, either from undiagnosed COVID-19 or from other causes related to the pandemic.

Pulse bar chart

The scientists who designed the Research and Development Survey (RANDS) could never have foreseen the current global pandemic. But when COVID-19 struck, they recognized the tool was uniquely ready to meet the needs of the response.

Map: Life Expectancy at Birth for US Census Tracts, 2010-2015

The effects of COVID-19 go beyond numbers of cases and deaths. How many people are struggling under the stresses of the pandemic? The experimental Household Pulse Survey is helping to measure these other costs – and get answers before it’s too late to act.

View Of Doctors Stacking Hands

In Maryland, we’ve made our death reporting systems more electronic, connected, and responsive. But if you want change to be meaningful and lasting, you also have to give people on the ground what they need to make it work.

sound waves of different colors

Information from death certificates can lead us toward more effective disease prevention, better cures, and healthier lives. When crisis strikes, timely and high-quality death information becomes even more critical.

multiple charts and graphs

Mortality data answers critical questions, helping us understand how many Americans are dying and – importantly – why. These data are relied on by researchers, epidemiologists, clinicians, policymakers, and many others working to identify problems, find solutions, and save lives.

Innovation and Data
Kirk Benge, Director and Health Officer at Utah’s TriCounty Health Department, illustrates the complexities of public health in Utah.

In June 2023, more than 100 experts in data, technology, epidemiology, and more gathered in Salt Lake City to tackle big modernization challenges and brainstorm solutions to improve health outcomes and preparedness for people living in Utah.

Chart showing how NCHS surveys link to the National Death Index, Medicaid, Housing and Urban Development, Social Security Administration, and Medicare.

Working with industry partners can help focus public health efforts and speed our response. As we improve public health data and technology through major national efforts like CDC’s Data Modernization Initiative, we’re seeking to make public-private connections more open and equitable.

Chart showing how NCHS surveys link to the National Death Index, Medicaid, Housing and Urban Development, Social Security Administration, and Medicare.

The National Center for Health Statistics links health-related data from multiple sources so that scientists and policymakers can answer complex health questions relevant to all Americans. State-of-the-art data science techniques are helping us meet the information needs of the nation.

a paper airplane changing direction

When plans don’t go as expected, the best resource you’ll ever have is the right people. Here at the vital records office in Indiana, we encountered some unexpected twists and turns in trying to speed up our death reporting, but we always kept moving in the right direction through the sheer ingenuity of our team.

Map: Life Expectancy at Birth for US Census Tracts, 2010-2015

Do you know what life expectancy is where you live? A new, first-of-its-kind map from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) lets you explore detailed life expectancy estimates across the United States, down to the census tract level.

Predicted county-level suicide death rates in 2015.

When a team of four scientists at the National Center for Health Statistics—working in different divisions and offering different expertise—came together to examine suicide data, they made a leap in data analysis so innovative it earned them CDC’s highest honor for scientific work.

First-of-its-kind data, compiled by the United States Small-Area Life Expectancy Estimate Project (USALEEP), mean that life expectancy at birth estimates are now available nationwide – down to the neighborhood level – for virtually every community in America. The first universal measure of health at a neighborhood level reveals gaps that may previously have gone unnoticed.

Building the Public Health Data Workforce
people working on a puzzle

When it comes to making data interoperable, we think about making better connections between systems. But in focusing on the technology, we sometimes undervalue the connections we need to make between people.

Man holding a hologram

Connecting the right talent, technology, and teamwork is a powerful way to advance solutions to modern health challenges. It’s also one way that CDC is enhancing surveillance through innovation—by focusing on the people behind the data.

Battling the Opioid Emergency
pill packages

Each year, about 100,000 people die in the state of New York, not including deaths that occur within New York City. The momentous task of reporting these deaths falls to the state’s 3,000 funeral directors, 57 county coroner and medical examiners’ offices, 1,400+ local registrars, and approximately 70,000 licensed medical certifiers.

suicide prevention

At the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), we are using research to help turn the tide. As a research agency, we often uncover clues – and new questions – by examining mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System. The equation is simple: the more complete death record information we have, and the faster we have it, the better the research we can do to save lives.

string game

As the opioid overdose crisis looms large over our country, there is no doubt that improving data on how, when, and where people are losing their lives to drug overdoses will help prevent additional overdose deaths. But as we improve our ability to collect and share drug overdose death data, we also have an impact that reaches far beyond this epidemic.

46 people die everyday from opioid overdoses

Information from death certificates was one of the earliest sources of surveillance data, and mortality data still supports public health decision-making today in a host of ways. Finding tools and methods to better collect this information and exchange it more easily is a priority, especially when it comes to addressing the latest public health emergency: the epidemic of drug overdose deaths.

Health care professional writing on clip board and patient laying down on the background

To keep up with the fast-moving opioid epidemic, CDC scientists from different centers work together to examine the timeliest data available to the agency on emergency department visits for opioid overdoses across multiple states. By combining surveillance data from two systems, experts can get a more detailed and timely view of this public health emergency.

Modernizing Public Health Information Technology

CDC’s surveillance systems serve critical public health functions, but many of our systems use aging technologies that have been patched together over time and need to be rebuilt or replaced. We are exploring technologies such as application programming interfaces (APIs) and micro-services that are used successfully by many other organizations to deliver timely, high-quality data when and where it is needed.

Thanks to advancements in technology and national incentives, physical health records largely have become digitized, and their roles have evolved beyond just documenting care. Data captured in electronic health records is used to create a deeper understanding of wellness and diseases, identify threats to public health, and guide policy changes. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR®), or “fire” as it’s pronounced, is critical to this paradigm shift.

All information captured on death certificates—such as race, gender, and marital status—matters. Capturing the information in a timely and accurate way is more than just an administrative requirement with public health benefits. It’s an opportunity to provide a sense of closure, maintain dignity, and respect the wishes of those who have departed.

When important details about how someone died are captured on death certificates, that data can greatly enhance existing public health surveillance efforts and help us understand epidemics. Today, several acceptable ways of writing cause-of-death statements exist, yet the level of precision required can be daunting and confusing, especially when evidence is incomplete or there are multiple conditions present at the time of death. Still, there are a number of ways we can make improvements.

More Stories from Around CDC

Read about progress in syndromic surveillance.

See stories on how vital statistics are moving forward.

See how informatics is improving how our data moves.

Learn about modernizing case surveillance.

Learn about progress in electronic case reporting (eCR).

Stories from Our Partners

Read data modernization stories from our partners CSTE and PHII.

CSTE DMI Stories from the Field video interviews:
PHII DMI Stories from the Field