Medical intelligence in Europe

Medical intelligence can be defined as all the activities related to early identification of potential health threats, their verification, assessment and investigation in order to recommend public health control measures to control them. It covers epidemic intelligence on communicable diseases, but also chemical, radiological and nuclear information, it reviews the latest development in health, as for instance the progress in science, in medicine, vaccines and covers the preparedness and response activities.

Disease surveillance systems are providing information on potential threats by identifying abnormal events in the temporal distribution of known disease indicators routinely collected (number of cases, rates), including changing laboratory characteristics. New approaches have been developed to enhance the capacity of surveillance systems in detecting ‘previously unknown’ threats, such as monitoring of syndromes (syndromic surveillance), death rates, utilization of health services (e.g. emergency room admissions, drug prescriptions), behaviours, and exposure to risks related to the environment, food or animals.

As a certain amount of threats to public health are not detected by these systems but are reported in the press or by other sources, event monitoring systems are complementing surveillance systems for the detection of emerging threats at international level.

Primary information can be reported by individuals, the media or information scanning tools (e.g. MediSys), and may be further analysed, assessed and disseminated to identified actors and stakeholders.


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The European Commission has developed "MediSys", an information scanning tool, to reinforce the Network for Surveillance of Communicable diseases and the early detection of bioterrorism activities. Information provided by MediSys is derived from reports produced by the ‘European Media Monitor’ (EMM). EMM processes over 20,000 internet articles per day. Articles collected are grouped into categories based upon pre-defined keyword search combinations and statistics are stored on the filtered categories. An algorithm is also used to detect ‘breaking news’ in a given category. Based on the level of new articles and the detected keywords, an alert may be sent to key persons by email and SMS.

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At first, access to Medisys was restricted to Member States and Commission services. Since December 2006, a public version is also available allowing the use by a wider public of this helpful surveillance tool.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, being in charge of communicable diseases monitoring, has also developed activities in the domain of epidemic intelligence on communicable diseases 1 .

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1ECDC : Meeting report - ECDC consultation : Epidemic intelligence in the EU, Stockholm, 18 – 19 January 2006.
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