Opportunities and Challenges for Developing Syndromic Surveillance Systems for the Detection of Social Epidemics

How to Cite

Scales, D. (2020). Opportunities and Challenges for Developing Syndromic Surveillance Systems for the Detection of Social Epidemics. Online Journal of Public Health Informatics, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.5210/ojphi.v12i1.10579


This commentary explores the potential and challenges of developing syndromic surveillance systems with the ability to more rapidly detect epidemics of addiction, poverty, housing instability, food insecurity, social isolation and other social determinants of health (SDoH). Epidemiologists tracking SDoH heavily rely on expensive government surveys released annually, delaying the timely detection of spikes in social epidemics for months if not years. Conversely, infectious disease syndromic surveillance is an effective early warning tool for epidemic diseases using various types of non-traditional epidemiological data from emergency room chief complaints to search query data. Based on such experience, novel social syndromic surveillance systems for early detection of social epidemics with health implications are not only possible but necessary. Challenges to their widespread implementation include incorporating disparate proprietary data sources and database integration. Significantly more resources are critically needed to address these barriers to allow for accessing, integrating and rapidly analyzing appropriate data streams to make syndromic surveillance for social determinants of health widely available to public health professionals.

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