The Importance of Public Health Surveillance

November 6, 2012 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE


Who teaches the public about the dangers of smoking? How about the consequences of drunk driving? Who spreads information about HIV transmission, flu outbreaks, or epidemics like SARS? The staff of public health organizations who are trained in public health surveillance implement different methods of tracking the growing trends and widespread issues in the health of the population. They can work in labs, conduct surveys, or analyze reports and data from hospitals to find out how and why people are in danger, and their ongoing research saves lives. Public Health Surveillance can be very complicated. Public health workers often monitor all kinds of health issues across a variety of spectrum – locally, nationally, and globally. But there are three basic types of surveillance they use.

1. Passive Surveillance

Passive surveillance involves collecting and analyzing data, usually from health facilities who want some help with the disease in question – knowing how widespread it is, how serious the cases are, or what can be done to prevent it. Passive surveillance is normally cheap and easy to perform, because it is part of routine health services and research. But in passive surveillance, no attempt to contact outside sources or acquire additional data is made – it is simply for keeping track of population trends and discovering what the baseline trend for a disease usually is.

2. Active Surveillance

Active surveillance is when a problem is identified and public health workers actively seek information on how to diagnose and prevent it. This can be due to an outbreak or due to a common problem that the health industry continuously works to solve, like cancer or infertility. Most of the time, though, active surveillance is a response to a threat. When data that is routinely collected shows a spike in a certain disease or an outbreak of an unidentified disease – such as the early days of AIDS – public health workers begin surveillance to study it. It is usually a much more expensive undertaking than passive surveillance, and so it is reserved for serious problems or important studies.

3. Mixed Surveillance

Combining passive and active surveillance, public health workers strive for disease control. When a disease is very serious and also continuously affects the population, public health workers may want to seek out data on their own, combined with the hospitals and health facilities that are offering their information. AIDS, cancer, and diseases in developing countries like malaria are all controlled by a system of mixed surveillance.

There is a huge shortage of trained, educated workers in public health, which is worrisome because public health surveillance is incredibly important when it comes to protecting the general population. These are the people we turn to when there is a threat, and their research into how to diagnose and prevent the diseases which already impact the lives of so many people can result in medical breakthroughs. We see their work on the evening news telling us what to do to stay healthy, but most people don’t even realize that there are professionals behind the scenes, working to keep us safe.

About the Author:

Nancy Meyers writes for education blogs where you can read more about the Top 10 Best Online Bachelor’s in Public Health Programs.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.