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DOH Unveils Environmental Public Health Tracking Website

On July 2, 2007 the New York Department of Health launched its Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) website. The site provides links to existing environmental and human health data and describes concepts on how the environment affects human health. The EPHT website is part of the state's larger program which is funded by the national CDC. According to the Department's press release:

"Our vision is to have a robust environmental public health tracking system in New York State that provides government agencies, researchers and the public with health and environmental data in a way that is responsive to their needs, that respects people's privacy and furthers our goals to protect and improve public health," Dr. Daines said.

"Concepts” and “Data” headings on the EPHT website lead to various pages of focused discussions, for example, What Surveillance Can and Can’t Tell Us. To paraphrase, surveillance is an an important tool that can help us: explore relationships among environmental hazards and health outcomes; identify unusual patterns/ trends; develop/evaluate public health programs, regulations or policies; identify data quality issues; and generate hypotheses/ provide data for research.

On the other hand, as the surveillance page informs us, “Surveillance alone can't tell us if something in the environment is causing a disease or health condition in most cases." For example, a map showing disease rates may help us identify trends and pattern --- a starting point. If we see major differences, additional questions may be:

  • Are disease rates higher in or does the geographic pattern vary by any particular age or race/ethnicity group? in urban areas or rural areas? areas with higher or lower income ? education?

  • What about changes in disease rates over time? Maps are good for identifying geographical differences, but not so good at showing changes over time. Graphing disease over time may show if the rates are consistently getting higher or lower. Do rates vary from year to year, season to season?
Another tool for collecting health information is disease screening. See DOH's Chronic Disease Teaching Tools Disease Screening:

Screening refers to the application of a medical procedure or test to people who as yet have no symptoms of a particular disease, for the purpose of determining their likelihood of having the disease. The screening procedure itself does not diagnose the illness. Those who have a positive result from the screening test will need further evaluation with subsequent diagnostic tests or procedures.

. . .

The goal of screening is to reduce morbidity or mortality from the disease by detecting diseases in their earliest stages, when treatment is usually more successful.

(emphasis in original)

Most U.S. newborns are now screened for genetic disease, as HealthDay's Carolyn Colwell has reported. She notes that the March of Dimes released their Newborn Screening Report Card (July 10 see the March of Dimes website) showing that 13 states, including New York, currently mandate all 29 newborn screenings. “The ironic thing is that in states that don’t do all these screens, when babies show up in the ER in dire circumstances, treatment—although too little , too late—is automatically provided.”

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 13, 2007 2:45 PM.

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