Emergency Department Chief Complaint and Diagnosis Data to Detect Influenza-Like Illness with an Electronic Medical Record

Published in: The Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, v. 11, no. 1, Feb. 2010, p. 1-9

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2009

by Larissa S. May, Beth Ann Griffin, Nicole Maier Bauers, Arvind Jain, Marsha Mitchum, Neal Sikka, Marianne Carim, Michael A. Stoto

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BACKGROUND: The purpose of syndromic surveillance is early detection of a disease outbreak. Such systems rely on the earliest data, usually chief complaint. The growing use of electronic medical records (EMR) raises the possibility that other data, such as emergency department (ED) diagnosis, may provide more specific information without significant delay, and might be more effective in detecting outbreaks if mechanisms are in place to monitor and report these data. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study is to characterize the added value of the primary ICD-9 diagnosis assigned at the time of ED disposition compared to the chief complaint for patients with influenza-like illness (ILI). METHODS: The study was a retrospective analysis of the EMR of a single urban, academic ED with an annual census of over 60, 000 patients per year from June 2005 through May 2006. We evaluate the objective in two ways. First, we characterize the proportion of patients whose ED diagnosis is inconsistent with their chief complaint and the variation by complaint. Second, by comparing time series and applying syndromic detection algorithms, we determine which complaints and diagnoses are the best indicators for the start of the influenza season when compared to the Centers for Disease Control regional data for Influenza-Like Illness for the 2005 to 2006 influenza season using three syndromic surveillance algorithms: univariate cumulative sum (CUSUM), exponentially weighted CUSUM, and multivariate CUSUM. RESULTS: In the first analysis, 29% of patients had a different diagnosis at the time of disposition than suggested by their chief complaint. In the second analysis, complaints and diagnoses consistent with pneumonia, viral illness and upper respiratory infection were together found to be good indicators of the start of the influenza season based on temporal comparison with regional data. In all examples, the diagnosis data outperformed the chief-complaint data. CONCLUSION: Both analyses suggest the ED diagnosis contains useful information for detection of ILI. Where an EMR is available, the short time lag between complaint and diagnosis may be a price worth paying for additional information despite the brief potential delay in detection, especially considering that detection usually occurs over days rather than hours.

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