The objective of the lecture is to understand: the important role of surveillance in public health (and clinical) practice; how to link the design of a surveillance system to the objectives that it serves; what types of data might be used for surveillance; approaches to data collection, analysis and reporting; and the need for quality and governance standards, as well as clear operating procedures. The lecture includes brief descriptions of examples of systems that exemplify many of the principles outlined, and notes common pitfalls in the design and operation of surveillance systems. 

Surveillance is first and foremost a process for producing information that will trigger, inform or be used to evaluate defined public health (or clinical) action. If there is no clear and immediate link between the information output of an activity and existing or planned public health action then it is unlikely that the activity is surveillance.

Public health action that is informed by good quality surveillance is likely to be both more effective and more efficient than action that is undertaken in the absence of surveillance. A good surveillance system should provide timely, accurate and relevant interpreted information while at the same time minimising the burden placed on data providers.

The Role of Surveillance

The Components of Surveillance

Objectives of Surveillance – Inputs and Outputs

Surveillance or Research?

Criteria for Surveillance

Sources and Types of Data

Surveillance System Design and Operation 

Quality, Governance and Operating Procedures

Analysis, Interpretation and Dissemination

Opportunities and Challenges 

Learning Objectives

 After reading this chapter, you will be better able to:

  • understand the role of surveillance in public health practice, and how this differs from research
  • describe the component activities of surveillance
  • define the objectives for a surveillance system and use these to determine (or evaluate) the inputs and outputs of a surveillance system
  • understand the differences between surveillance and research
  • understand the criteria for undertaking surveillance
  • be aware of potential sources of data for surveillance
  • understand how the characteristics of data and the practicalities of collecting those data need to be taken into account in the design and operation of a surveillance system
  • understand the need for quality criteria, data governance and clear operating procedures for asurveillance system
  • understand the importance of, and be aware of a range of approaches to, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of information as part of the surveillance process 
  • be aware of the challenges and opportunities posed by emerging threats and emerging technologies