Justification for Collecting Urgent Care Data to Broaden Syndromic Surveillance

How to Cite

Swenson, D. J., Stephens, E., Prahlow, S. P., & atanda, A. (2018). Justification for Collecting Urgent Care Data to Broaden Syndromic Surveillance. Online Journal of Public Health Informatics, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.5210/ojphi.v10i1.8372



Provide justification for the collection and reporting of urgent care (UC) data for public health syndromic surveillance.


While UC does not have a standard definition, it can generally be described as the delivery of ambulatory medical care outside of a hospital emergency department (ED) on a walk-in basis, without a scheduled appointment, available at extended hours, and providing an array of services comparable to typical primary care offices.1 UC facilities represent a growing sector of the United States healthcare industry, doubling in size between 2008 and 2011.1 The Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA) estimates that UC facilities had 160 million patient encounters in 2013.2 This compares to 130.4 million patient encounters in EDs in 2013, as reported by the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.3 Public Health (PH) is actively working to broaden syndromic surveillance to include urgent care data as more individuals use these services.4 PH needs justification when reaching out to healthcare partners to get buy-in for collecting and reporting UC data.


The International Society for Disease Surveillance (ISDS) Community of Practice (CoP) platform was used to host a webinar introducing the topic of urgent care participation in syndromic surveillance. This webinar provided a valuable opportunity to obtain insight from jurisdictions pursuing and using UC data. A workgroup was formed to create documentation justifying the collection and reporting of UC data. Using this forum, the workgroup brought together partners from various jurisdictions working with UC data to participate in a literature review of SCOPUS, PubMed, and the Online Journal of Public Health Informatics publications and to share their experiences. These two main sources of information – previous literature and jurisdictional experience – were combined and condensed to provide tangible justifications for the collection and use of UC data.

While the workgroup found little in the literature to justify the collection of UC data as a part of syndromic surveillance, the shared experiences of the CoP jurisdictions working to onboard UC facilities provided valuable insight. From this collaborative response, three main reasons to collect UC data were identified.
1) Healthcare reform is directing patients away from EDs and toward UC facilities. UC represents reduced cost and more efficient patient processing, thus easing the burden on both patient and healthcare system (according to a 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics article entitled “Urgent Care and Emergency Department Visits in the Pediatric Medicaid Population”). If syndromic surveillance does not adapt to include UC data, the potential exists to lose significant patient populations, which may lead to decreased situational awareness.
2) According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Stage 3 guidance, Meaningful Use (MU) will change the relationship between eligible professionals (EPs) and syndromic surveillance by restricting EPs to those who practice in a UC facility. This approach to EP participation simplifies the syndromic surveillance MU objective, thereby making it easier for PH jurisdictions to onboard UC facilities.
3) Patients with certain conditions that are acute but non-emergent may report more frequently to an UC facility than to an ED. Broadening syndromic surveillance to include UC facilities may increase reporting of “rare event” encounters, which will lower the relative standard error for statistical calculation. Surveillance efforts for conditions like influenza-like illness and Zika virus may improve substantially with a larger data pool.

How the Moderator Intends to Engage the Audience in Discussions on the Topic: 

The moderator will begin discussion with a brief presentation from the literature review and jurisdictional experience, highlighting three justifications for collecting and reporting UC data. The audience will be divided into 3 groups to discuss and validate 3 additional topics: creation of syndromic surveillance talking points to share with UC facility management, creation of jurisdictional UC facility listings, and UC onboarding best practices. Feedback from the 3 groups will be shared with the whole group, followed by a brief summary of the discussion and recommendations for next steps.

Authors own copyright of their articles appearing in the Online Journal of Public Health Informatics. Readers may copy articles without permission of the copyright owner(s), as long as the author and OJPHI are acknowledged in the copy and the copy is used for educational, not-for-profit purposes. Share-alike: when posting copies or adaptations of the work, release the work under the same license as the original. For any other use of articles, please contact the copyright owner. The journal/publisher is not responsible for subsequent uses of the work, including uses infringing the above license. It is the author's responsibility to bring an infringement action if so desired by the author.