Online surveillance systems in communicable diseases
Being able to quickly and efficiently identify infectious diseases (especially those that are new or re-emerging) is a crucial element in disease control. Surveillance systems typically rely on a patient recognising symptoms and seeking treatment, followed by a healthcare provider or laboratory staff member reporting the data to the relevant public health authorities. These systems can be expensive, time/resource intensive and may require complex networks.
However, some surveillance systems are not always efficient in dealing with these new infections. Recently, there been an increase in the use of systems, which exploit the increase in worldwide internet usage. To date, Internet based surveillance systems have included the use of:
Social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs)
Automated analysis of internet usage data (search data etc.)
Online surveys There are advantages and disadvantages with the use of these new systems in comparison to other approaches to disease surveillance that are used here in Australia and overseas, such as Australian National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS). The aim of this report is to critically evaluate an internet based surveillance approach. Choose one of the following options to focus on:
1. FluTracking Surveillance System (established by University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health)
2. Google Flu or Dengue Trends
4. A social media based surveillance approach
The report requires you to demonstrate that you have gained an understanding of the system that you are writing about. Your report should cover the following areas:
1. Aim/objectives of the system and the rational for its use
2. Type/structure/core function of the system (i.e. case definition, design, population under surveillance, data collection strategies, methods used to analyse the data etc.)
3. Surveillance system attributes (i.e. acceptability, flexibility, timeliness, representativeness, data accuracy.)
4. Utilisation of the data collected from the system
5. Quality control/monitoring and evaluation
6. Potential or identified strengths, weaknesses and challenges associated with using the system
7. Changes that could be made to improve the system and/or suggested future directions
When addressing the topic areas, you should compare your chosen internet based system with other surveillance approaches used either in Australia or overseas (either passive or active) the other system for comparison should be a more conventional surveillance system.
You are asked to critically evaluate and apply relevant literature to support your arguments. While there have been review articles published exploring the use of internet based surveillance systems, we encourage you to use a range of sources (primary, secondary) and will be looking for original thought, rather than repeating the findings from a review article.
The assignment will be marked on your ability to synthesise the information available into a concise and thoughtful summary of the most important components. Your report should be 1500 words in length- take care not to exceed the specified word count. Also, please do not include more than two tables and/or one figure into your report.
1- Guidelines for Evaluating Public Health Surveillance Systems http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5013a1.htm
2- Health statistics NSW http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/hsnsw/pages/default.aspx
3 – Surveillance systems reported in Communicable Diseases Intelligence
4 – NSW Centre for Health Record Linkage (routine datasets used for linkage)
Learning outcomes addressed
Demonstrated understanding of surveillance strategies that shows the ability to engage critically with relevant literature for the purpose of evaluating a strategy in a specific context.
Demonstrated understanding of infectious disease epidemiology in the context of a specific disease and setting and the relationship with desirable characteristics of surveillance systems. Assessment Criteria This assessment task will be marked on the basis of the extent to which the following criteria are addressed. 25 (out of 30) percentage points will be allocated for:
1. The description provided of the system.
2. The comprehensiveness of the material provided around the objectives and the rationale for the surveillance system approach.
3. The appropriateness of the details included about the system including its core functions, implementation strategy and evaluation method for monitoring effectiveness etc.
4. Demonstration of critical skills and synthesis, encompassing the context of the disease and location in discussion around the advantages, disadvantages and challenges associated with your chosen surveillance system.
Five (out of 30) percentage points will be allocated for:
1. Use of the literature- what is the quality and adequacy of the literature on which the assessment is based? Did you go beyond the literature made available to you for the course
2. Is your work adequately and competently referenced? – whether peer-reviewed, other written, and online sources
3. Is the work well written, in clear and coherent English with a logical argument
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