Emergency department syndromic surveillance systems: a systematic review

BMC Public Health. 2020 Dec 9;20(1):1891. doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-09949-y.


Background: Syndromic surveillance provides public health intelligence to aid in early warning and monitoring of public health impacts (e.g. seasonal influenza), or reassurance when an impact has not occurred. Using information collected during routine patient care, syndromic surveillance can be based on signs/symptoms/preliminary diagnoses. This approach makes syndromic surveillance much timelier than surveillance requiring laboratory confirmed diagnoses. The provision of healthcare services and patient access to them varies globally. However, emergency departments (EDs) exist worldwide, providing unscheduled urgent care to people in acute need. This provision of care makes ED syndromic surveillance (EDSyS) a potentially valuable tool for public health surveillance internationally. The objective of this study was to identify and describe the key characteristics of EDSyS systems that have been established and used globally.

Methods: We systematically reviewed studies published in peer review journals and presented at International Society of Infectious Disease Surveillance conferences (up to and including 2017) to identify EDSyS systems which have been created and used for public health purposes. Search criteria developed to identify "emergency department" and "syndromic surveillance" were applied to NICE healthcare, Global Health and Scopus databases.

Results: In total, 559 studies were identified as eligible for inclusion in the review, comprising 136 journal articles and 423 conference abstracts/papers. From these studies we identified 115 EDSyS systems in 15 different countries/territories across North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia. Systems ranged from local surveillance based on a single ED, to comprehensive national systems. National EDSyS systems were identified in 8 countries/territories: 2 reported inclusion of ≥85% of ED visits nationally (France and Taiwan).

Conclusions: EDSyS provides a valuable tool for the identification and monitoring of trends in severe illness. Technological advances, particularly in the emergency care patient record, have enabled the evolution of EDSyS over time. EDSyS reporting has become closer to 'real-time', with automated, secure electronic extraction and analysis possible on a daily, or more frequent basis. The dissemination of methods employed and evidence of successful application to public health practice should be encouraged to support learning from best practice, enabling future improvement, harmonisation and collaboration between systems in future.

Prospero number: CRD42017069150 .

Keywords: Accident and emergency; Acute illness; Emergency department; Emergency room; Natural disaster; Outbreak; Public health; Real-time surveillance; Syndromic surveillance; Terrorism.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Asia
  • Australasia
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Europe
  • France
  • Humans
  • North America
  • Population Surveillance
  • Sentinel Surveillance*
  • Taiwan