Military service members and their families work and live around the world where both endemic and emerging infectious diseases are common. Timely infectious disease surveillance helps to inform medical and policy decisions which ensure mission readiness and beneficiary health. The EpiData Center (EDC) at the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center has performed public health surveillance, including routine infectious disease monitoring among service members, their families, and others eligible for military medical benefits for the Department of the Navy (DON) and Department of Defense (DOD) since 2005. The EDC stores and maintains 15 databases totaling over 20 terabytes of health and administrative data. These include administrative data from outpatient encounters and inpatient admissions, Health Level-7 (HL7) formatted ancillary services data, and medical event reports. These data provide the potential for robust surveillance methodologies to monitor diseases of interest and identify trends and outbreaks. The primary intent and design of these data sources is not for disease surveillance, but rather for administrative and billing purposes. However, due to the availability of this data, it is routinely used by academic organizations, private industry, health systems, and government organizations to conduct health surveillance and research. Ancillary services data in particular can be very powerful for near-real time infectious disease surveillance in the DOD as the aggregated data is available within 1 to 2 days after processing. The EDC has demonstrated the value of using laboratory data for surveillance through outbreak detection and longitudinal health trends for specific diseases among select populations. The fact that this data is not designed for surveillance does present several pitfalls in regards to analysis, from issues ranging from free text interpretation to changing testing practices. These pitfalls can be mitigated through standardized processes and detailed quality assurance testing. The EDC has harnessed the power of available administrative health data to improve health outcomes and influence policy among military beneficiaries.
Objective: Discuss the power of utilizing DOD clinical ancillary services data for infectious disease surveillance, the steps used to mitigate pitfalls which may occur during the surveillance process, and the potential of adapting this data for surveillance of emerging infectious diseases.