Epidemiology is highly important when massive outbreaks of infectious diseases occur in society. It is considered a branch of medicine and general medical science at the same time because of its wide utilization in public health. Furthermore, epidemiologists conduct thorough investigations, including data collection and analysis, interpretation of results, and identification of risk factors. These results are also used in policy-making and evidence-based clinical practices. Therefore, public health surveillance is one of the core epidemiologic functions which can also be demonstrated within clinical conditions.
The role of epidemiology in public health is immense because it serves as a warning system that helps to predict and prevent emergencies. Public health surveillance is one of its core functions that implies ongoing systematic health data collection, review, and interpretation that is further used in policy making, designing intervention methods, and monitoring the epidemiology of health problems. Previously, epidemiology was primarily concerned with diseases caused by infectious agents.
Currently, this medical science also deals with other ailments that are prevalent in society but emerge due to other factors and are not transmitted from human to human. It means that public health surveillance also encompasses such conditions as injury or poisonings. Large-scale ecological catastrophes may also be of great importance to epidemiology because some of them greatly influence air and water pollution. Other disasters such as nuclear accidents have an immense invisible impact on population groups and may impose a long-lasting effect not only in the same geographical area but in neighboring regions.
Undertaking constant surveillance is crucial in order to design preventive methods and protect the public from possible negative consequences. Therefore, it is necessary to estimate the scope of the problem and define its geographic distribution. Providing the history of disease is also helpful because it allows analyzing previous practices and outcomes both for researchers, clinical practitioners, and the public in general. When the problem is identified, the task of public health surveillance is to generate hypotheses for further research.
These assumptions could be later used in the practical implementations and observations of theoretical assumptions. Furthermore, the public health surveillance function of epidemiology includes monitoring of changes in infectious agents as they can modify over time. Such mutations emerge based on the mutual impact of different causes and factors. Thus, ongoing monitoring and documenting of changes lead to the necessity of adopting certain health practices. Overall, public health surveillance is crucially important in epidemiology because it serves as a basis for other functions and procedures.
The example of public health surveillance is demonstrated in one of the readings prepared by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It describes the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) that includes “health-related telephone surveys that collect state data about U.S. residents regarding their health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventive services” (CDC, 2016).
This program has been demonstrating its effectiveness for more than thirty years already. At the very beginning, it collected data only from only fifteen states, while currently, it operates in fifty states in the US. BRFSS has also become the largest continuously conducted survey that congregates data that is further used in developing health promotion activities. It also plays a great role in executing public health surveillance function because it identifies multiple risk factors and behaviors beforehand.
Public health surveillance as the epidemiological function is also related to the clinical practice of the registered nurse. It is necessary to note that morbidity and mortality rates have significantly changed in the twenty-first century because new kinds of diseases emerge, but they can be identified in either laboratory or clinical observation. Therefore, public health surveillance is also present in clinical practice where registered nurses investigate trends in groups and detect the tendency of disease occurrence.
Those medical professionals who work in hospital settings can identify population groups at risk and limit the hazard of either infectious or non-communicable disease spread. Registered nurses are also responsible for conducting epidemiological investigations and monitoring the progress of a disease. Such observations, results, and conclusions carry out a public health surveillance function. However, Westin (2015) reports that scientific criteria from clinical medicine transferred to public health may lack evidence. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze data gathered in clinical conditions together with information from the non-clinical population.
Epidemiology has a significant impact on disease prevention and health promotion. Even though there are three levels of disease prevention, public health surveillance is specifically targeted at the primary one. When causes of disease are identified, it becomes easier to design deliberate preventive measures and programs. Prevention at the community level is effective and may include immunization requirements, no-smoking regulations, and legislative restrictions (Fletcher & Fletcher, 2012). The latter also involves policy-making that is elaborated based on data gathered in health-related surveys and clinical evidence-based practices.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (2016). Behavioral risk factor surveillance system. Web.
Fletcher, R. & Fletcher, S. (2012). Clinical Epidemiology: The Essentials. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Westin, S. (2015). Epidemiology and health policy: How to avoid becoming prisoners of the proximate. Norsk Epidemiologi, 25(1-2), 39-45.