Syndromic surveillance in companion animals utilizing electronic medical records data: Development and proof of concept

Philip H Kass, Hsin Yi Weng, Mark A L Gaona, Amy Hille, Max H. Sydow, Elizabeth M. Lund, Peter J. Markwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


In an effort to recognize and address communicable and point-source epidemics in dog and cat populations, this project created a near real-time syndromic surveillance system devoted to companion animal health in the United States. With over 150 million owned pets in the US, the development of such a system is timely in light of previous epidemics due to various causes that were only recognized in retrospect. The goal of this study was to develop epidemiologic and statistical methods for veterinary hospital-based surveillance, and to demonstrate its efficacy by detection of simulated foodborne outbreaks using a database of over 700 hospitals. Data transfer protocols were established via a secure file transfer protocol site, and a data repository was constructed predominantly utilizing open-source software. The daily proportion of patients with a given clinical or laboratory finding was contrasted with an equivalent average proportion from a historical comparison period, allowing construction of the proportionate diagnostic outcome ratio and its confidence interval for recognizing aberrant heath events. A five-tiered alert system was used to facilitate daily assessment of almost 2,000 statistical analyses. Two simulated outbreak scenarios were created by independent experts, blinded to study investigators, and embedded in the 2010 medical records. Both outbreaks were detected almost immediately by the alert system, accurately detecting species affected using relevant clinical and laboratory findings, and ages involved. Besides demonstrating proof-in-concept of using veterinary hospital databases to detect aberrant events in space and time, this research can be extended to conducting post-detection etiologic investigations utilizing exposure information in the medical record.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1940
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2016


  • Companion animal
  • Epidemiology
  • Foodborne outbreak
  • Proportionate diagnostic outcome ratio
  • Syndromic surveillance
  • Temporal and spatial analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Medicine(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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