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Big data and opportunities for injury surveillance
  1. Julia E Gunn1,
  2. Snehal N Shah2,3
  1. 1Communicable Disease Control Division, Boston Public Health Commission, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Research and Evaluation Office, Boston Public Health Commission, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3Department of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Julia E Gunn, Communicable Disease Control Division, Boston Public Health Commission, 1010 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02118, USA; JGunn@bphc.org

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This issue of Injury Prevention presents injury surveillance activities spanning a range of available methods from paper data collection systems to machine-learning techniques. We have been invited to share thoughts on future opportunities for injury surveillance and public health in general. Our perspective is focused on electronic information and its capacity to transform public health surveillance and provide opportunities for improved targeted interventions. Public health surveillance risks becoming irrelevant if it does not take advantage of electronic information. This includes contextual data that defines the circumstances of an event or outcome and allows for a more complete and informed response to public and population health problems.

In considering the future of public health surveillance, we see opportunities in electronic data sources that can be grouped into three categories. We consider electronic sources to be ‘big data’, which is defined by volume, velocity, variety and veracity.1 The definition provides a framework when evaluating big data. For example, veracity, which can range from inadequate to high quality, is critical for determining usability. Big data is repurposed for public health surveillance and will require tools and methods such as machine learning and quality metrics that may improve veracity. The categories are electronic health records (EHRs), sources of electronic information that describe context such as weather, crime, environmental conditions and emergency medical services data, and social media and internet-based data. These data may allow for a level of granularity critical to designing interventions relevant to specific settings, and pose both challenges and opportunities for public health agencies.

EHRs are a potential source of public health surveillance data. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 was enacted to promote the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology and has resulted in programmes to improve quality, safety and efficiency …

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