BACKGROUND: Influenza is a leading cause of death worldwide and contributes to heavy economic losses to individuals and communities. Therefore, the early prediction of and interventions against influenza epidemics are crucial to reduce mortality and morbidity because of this disease. Similar to other countries, the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (TWCDC) has implemented influenza surveillance and reporting systems, which primarily rely on influenza-like illness (ILI) data reported by health care providers, for the early prediction of influenza epidemics. However, these surveillance and reporting systems show at least a 2-week delay in prediction, indicating the need for improvement. OBJECTIVE: We aimed to integrate the TWCDC ILI data with electronic medical records (EMRs) of multiple hospitals in Taiwan. Our ultimate goal was to develop a national influenza trend prediction and reporting tool more accurate and efficient than the current influenza surveillance and reporting systems. METHODS: First, the influenza expertise team at Taipei Medical University Health Care System (TMUHcS) identified surveillance variables relevant to the prediction of influenza epidemics. Second, we developed a framework for integrating the EMRs of multiple hospitals with the ILI data from the TWCDC website to proactively provide results of influenza epidemic monitoring to hospital infection control practitioners. Third, using the TWCDC ILI data as the gold standard for influenza reporting, we calculated Pearson correlation coefficients to measure the strength of the linear relationship between TMUHcS EMRs and regional and national TWCDC ILI data for 2 weekly time series datasets. Finally, we used the Moving Epidemic Method analyses to evaluate each surveillance variable for its predictive power for influenza epidemics. RESULTS: Using this framework, we collected the EMRs and TWCDC ILI data of the past 3 influenza seasons (October 2014 to September 2017). On the basis of the EMRs of multiple hospitals, 3 surveillance variables, TMUHcS-ILI, TMUHcS-rapid influenza laboratory tests with positive results (RITP), and TMUHcS-influenza medication use (IMU), which reflected patients with ILI, those with positive results from rapid influenza diagnostic tests, and those treated with antiviral drugs, respectively, showed strong correlations with the TWCDC regional and national ILI data (r=.86-.98). The 2 surveillance variables-TMUHcS-RITP and TMUHcS-IMU-showed predictive power for influenza epidemics 3 to 4 weeks before the increase noted in the TWCDC ILI reports. CONCLUSIONS: Our framework periodically integrated and compared surveillance data from multiple hospitals and the TWCDC website to maintain a certain prediction quality and proactively provide monitored results. Our results can be extended to other infectious diseases, mitigating the time and effort required for data collection and analysis. Furthermore, this approach may be developed as a cost-effective electronic surveillance tool for the early and accurate prediction of epidemics of influenza and other infectious diseases in densely populated regions and nations.
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