An early strategic priority for the Ontario Agency of Health Protection and Promotion (PHO) is rapid public health threat detection and response with the aim to support and build provincial capacity to manage communicable diseases adequately. Innovative surveillance approaches, such as syndromic surveillance, have been proposed as a method to enhance rapid disease detection. Syndromic surveillance uses health-related data, groups of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease (e.g. ILI, presenting diagnoses from emergency room data), or treatment and information seeking data (e.g. pharmacy sales and internet hits), to rapidly signal a possible increase in cases more quickly than traditional surveillance systems.
In “Vision to Action”, the Agency Implementation Task Force identified that the Agency would be well positioned to assume a leadership role in identifying and assessing emergent non-traditional surveillance approaches such as syndromic surveillance (Vision to Action, p.44). Currently in Ontario, several health departments participate in regional syndromic surveillance initiatives in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care (MOHLTC), primary care and academia. Additionally, at the provincial level, the MOHLTC supports a Syndromic Surveilllance Ontario (SSO) initiative, which consists of a web-based knowledge transfer portal, as well as the exploration of Telehealth and emergency department data for syndromic surveillance.
Given the presence of existing players within this field, a workshop on Syndromic Surveillance in Ontario was planned by PHO with the following objectives:
To find out what is occurring in Ontario in the field of syndromic surveillance (SS)
To discuss the added value and/or application of SS to public health in relation to routine surveillance tools as well as in emergencies or large gatherings
To discuss the direction Ontario should take in terms of SS
To define what the role of PHO should be in this domain
To start building a SS network