Integration of Syndromic Surveillance Data into Public Health Practice at State and Local Levels in North Carolina

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Objectives.We sought to describe the integration of syndromic surveillance data into daily surveillance practice at local health departments (LHDs) and make recommendations for the effective integration of syndromic and reportable disease data for public health use.Methods.Structured interviews were conducted with local health directors and communicable disease nursing staff from a stratified random sample of LHDs from May through September 2009. Interviews captured information on direct access to the North Carolina syndromic surveillance system and on the use of syndromic surveillance information for outbreak management, program management, and the creation of reports. We analyzed syndromic surveillance system data to assess the number of signals resulting in a public health response.Results.Syndromic surveillance data were used for outbreak investigation (19% of respondents) and program management and report writing (43% of respondents); a minority reported use of both syndromic and reportable disease data for these purposes (15% and 23%, respectively). Receiving data from frequent system users was associated with using data for these purposes (p=0.016 and p=0.033, respectively, for syndromic and reportable disease data). A small proportion of signals (<25%) resulted in a public health response.Conclusions.Use of syndromic surveillance data by North Carolina local public health authorities resulted in meaningful public health action, including both case investigation and program management. While useful, the syndromic surveillance data system was oriented toward sensitivity rather than efficiency. Successful incorporation of new surveillance data is likely to require systems that are oriented toward efficiency.

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