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Open Access Short Report

Perceived usefulness of a distributed community-based syndromic surveillance system: a pilot qualitative evaluation study

Blaine Reeder1*, Debra Revere2, Donald R Olson3 and William B Lober124

Author Affiliations

1 Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems School of Nursing, Box 359442 University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

2 Department of Health Services School of Public Health, Box 354943 University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

3 International Society for Disease Surveillance 26 Lincoln Street, 3 Brighton, MA 02135, USA

4 Medical Education and Biomedical Informatics School of Medicine, Box 357240 University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:187  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-187

Published: 14 June 2011



We conducted a pilot utility evaluation and information needs assessment of the Distribute Project at the 2010 Washington State Public Health Association (WSPHA) Joint Conference. Distribute is a distributed community-based syndromic surveillance system and network for detection of influenza-like illness (ILI). Using qualitative methods, we assessed the perceived usefulness of the Distribute system and explored areas for improvement. Nine state and local public health professionals participated in a focus group (n = 6) and in semi-structured interviews (n = 3). Field notes were taken, summarized and analyzed.


Several emergent themes that contribute to the perceived usefulness of system data and the Distribute system were identified: 1) Standardization: a common ILI syndrome definition; 2) Regional Comparability: views that support county-by-county comparisons of syndromic surveillance data; 3) Completeness: complete data for all expected data at a given time; 4) Coverage: data coverage of all jurisdictions in WA state; 5) Context: metadata incorporated into the views to provide context for graphed data; 6) Trusted Data: verification that information is valid and timely; and 7) Customization: the ability to customize views as necessary. As a result of the focus group, a new county level health jurisdiction expressed interest in contributing data to the Distribute system.


The resulting themes from this study can be used to guide future information design efforts for the Distribute system and other syndromic surveillance systems. In addition, this study demonstrates the benefits of conducting a low cost, qualitative evaluation at a professional conference.