Views on increased federal access to state and local National Syndromic Surveillance Program data: a nominal group technique study with state and local epidemiologists. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: US public health authorities use syndromic surveillance to monitor and detect public health threats, conditions, and trends in near real-time. Nearly all US jurisdictions that conduct syndromic surveillance send their data to the National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP), operated by the US. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, current data sharing agreements limit federal access to state and local NSSP data to only multi-state regional aggregations. This limitation was a significant challenge for the national response to COVID-19. This study seeks to understand state and local epidemiologists' views on increased federal access to state NSSP data and identify policy opportunities for public health data modernization. METHODS: In September 2021, we used a virtual, modified nominal group technique with twenty regionally diverse epidemiologists in leadership positions and three individuals representing national public health organizations. Participants individually generated ideas on benefits, concerns, and policy opportunities relating to increased federal access to state and local NSSP data. In small groups, participants clarified and grouped the ideas into broader themes with the assistance of the research team. An web-based survey was used to evaluate and rank the themes using five-point Likert importance questions, top-3 ranking questions, and open-ended response questions. RESULTS: Participants identified five benefit themes for increased federal access to jurisdictional NSSP data, with the most important being improved cross-jurisdiction collaboration (mean Likert=4.53) and surveillance practice (4.07). Participants identified nine concern themes, with the most important concerns being federal actors using jurisdictional data without notice (4.60) and misinterpretation of data (4.53). Participants identified eleven policy opportunities, with the most important being involving state and local partners in analysis (4.93) and developing communication protocols (4.53). CONCLUSION: These findings identify barriers and opportunities to federal-state-local collaboration critical to current data modernization efforts. Syndromic surveillance considerations warrant data-sharing caution. However, identified policy opportunities share congruence with existing legal agreements, suggesting that syndromic partners are closer to agreement than they might realize. Moreover, several policy opportunities (i.e., including state and local partners in data analysis and developing communication protocols) received consensus support and provide a promising path forward.

published proceedings

  • BMC Public Health

author list (cited authors)

  • Schmit, C. D., Willis, B., McCall, H., Altabbaa, A., & Washburn, D.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Schmit, Cason D||Willis, Brooke||McCall, Hayleigh||Altabbaa, Alyaa||Washburn, David

publication date

  • March 2023