Objectives: We compared an electronic health record-based influenza-like illness (ILI) surveillance system with manual sentinel surveillance and virologic data to evaluate the utility of the automated system for routine ILI surveillance.
Methods: We obtained weekly aggregate ILI reports from the Electronic medical record Support for Public Health (ESP) disease-detection and reporting system, which used an automated algorithm to identify ILI visits among a patient population of about 700,000 in Eastern Massachusetts. The percentage of total visits for ILI ("percent ILI") in ESP, percent ILI in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's sentinel surveillance system, and percentage of laboratory specimens submitted to participating Massachusetts laboratories that tested positive for influenza were compared for the period October 2007-September 2011. We calculated Spearman's correlation coefficients and compared ESP and sentinel surveillance systems qualitatively, in terms of simplicity, flexibility, data quality, acceptability, timeliness, and usefulness.
Results: ESP and sentinel surveillance percent ILI always peaked within one week of each other. There was 80% correlation between the two and 71%-73% correlation with laboratory data. Sentinel surveillance percent ILI was higher than ESP percent ILI during influenza seasons. The amplitude of variation in ESP percent ILI was greatest for 5- to 49-year-olds and typically peaked for the 5- to 24-year-old age group before the others.
Conclusions: The ESP system produces percent ILI data of similar quality to sentinel surveillance and offers the advantages of shifting disease reporting burden from clinicians to information systems, allowing tracking of disease by age group, facilitating efficient surveillance for very large populations, and producing consistent and timely reports.