Epidemiologic data are paramount to targeting and implementing evidence-based control measures to protect the public’s health and safety. A field epidemiologist conducting an investigation to identify the cause of an urgent public health problem must determine quickly what decisions need to be made to implement control measures and what information and data are needed to support these measures. For efficiency, the epidemiologist should assess whether study protocols used in prior investigations, including use of existing data and methods for collecting new data, are available and can be adapted. The epidemiologist should evaluate whether existing data sources (e.g., vital statistics, notifiable disease registries, population-based surveys) are useful for addressing the investigation objectives or whether additional data need to be collected. If primary data collection is undertaken, the epidemiologist must assess the appropriate collection mode (e.g., self-administered, phone, on-line) that will in turn help to dictate the questionnaire format, length, and style of questions (e.g., close-ended, open-ended). Piloting the questionnaire with colleagues and study participants, and making appropriate edits will save time in the long run. Preliminary analyses, even before collection is complete, will ensure that data are high quality and adequate to answer the study objectives. Responding to urgent public health issues requires balancing the speed of response with the need for accurate data and information to support the implementation of control measures. Adapting preexisting protocols and questionnaires facilitates a timely response and consistency across jurisdictions.
Keywords: data collection, data sources, questionnaire development, sample selection, mortality statistics, notifiable diseases reporting, laboratory data, population surveys, vectors, environmental contaminants
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