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Johns Hopkins University

Surveillance Systems: The Building Blocks

Johns Hopkins University via Coursera


Epidemiology is often described as the cornerstone science and public health and public health surveillance is a cornerstone of epidemiology. This course will help you build your technical awareness and skills for working with a variety of surveillance systems. Along the way, we'll focus on system objectives, data reporting, the core surveillance attributes, and performance assessment. This course is designed for public health practitioners and anyone who wants to learn more about the basics of public health surveillance. If you develop or implement surveillance systems or aspire to do so or use the data resulting from surveillance, then this course is for you. It's s also for people who are interested in understanding more about this fundamental epidemiologic tool and public health practice.


  • Surveillance as a Core Public Health Function
    • In the first module, we're going to review the history of public health surveillance and discuss its role in improving public health. Surveillance is one of the most basic ways that public health practitioners monitor the health and well-being of populations. Understanding how these data are used is essential. In addition to reviewing what public health surveillance is, we will discuss examples of international surveillance networks and domestic surveillance networks in the United States. Many surveillance systems are very localized, but in an increasingly connected world, the need for integrated and collaborative surveillance platforms continues to grow. By the end of this module, I hope you'll see how fundamental surveillance is to public health practice.
  • Defining Surveillance Objectives
    • In this module, we'll discuss examples of surveillance objectives and the considerations that go into deciding what the objective should be and how this must be balanced with public health goals and available resources. Clear thinking about the objective for surveillance system will guide every decision from how to define your cases, to where to look for them, and what kinds if any of diagnostic test to use. I'll provide you with real world example of a public health surveillance system to give you the opportunity to wrangle with how to design a surveillance system based on its objectives. In this exercise, you'll learn that no surveillance system is perfect, but they can be well-suited for a specific purpose.
  • Surveillance Data Reporting Systems
    • In this module, we'll discuss what happens with data that are generated from public health surveillance. Recall that public health surveillance data are collected to spur public health action and decision-making. So we'll talk about how this reporting occurs. You'll think through all the various audiences who will use data from a surveillance system. We'll present examples from international and domestic surveillance systems in the United States to give you an opportunity to identify who would expect to have a report from some specific public health surveillance systems. At the end of this module, you'll be able to describe how public health data are communicated for public health action and how important stakeholders are identified.
  • Surveillance System Attributes and Assessing Performance
    • In this final module, we'll introduce you to various surveillance attributes we use to describe the performance of public health surveillance systems. While no surveillance systems is perfect, we need to be able to systematically evaluate the utility of the surveillance and compare surveillance systems. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a list of surveillance attributes which are commonly used globally, and we will review those. You will think about these attributes and performance characteristics within the context of two separate public health surveillance systems: one for an infectious disease, and one for a chronic disease.

Taught by

Dr. Emily S. Gurley


5.0 rating, based on 1 reviews

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  • This is a comprehensive foundational course on one of the most useful concepts in epidemiology - surveillance. The instructor is definitely an expert in the field, drawing from her vast experience in presenting examples relevant to both developed and developing country settings.

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