Use of Digital Pens for Rapid Epidemiologic Data Collection During a Foodborne Outbreak Investigation.

Disaster medicine and public health preparedness

PubMedID: 25939887

Mathewson AA, Daly ER, Cavallo SJ, Alic A. Use of Digital Pens for Rapid Epidemiologic Data Collection During a Foodborne Outbreak Investigation. Disaster Med Public Health Prep. 2015;1-5.
OBJECTIVE
Public health investigations require rapid assessment, response, and initiation of control measures. In 2012, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services used digital pens to rapidly acquire epidemiologic data during a gastrointestinal illness outbreak.

METHODS
Menus were obtained and a standard questionnaire was administered to exposed persons using digital pens. Questionnaire data were downloaded into an electronic file for analysis.

RESULTS
Sixty-nine (74%) of 93 exposed persons completed a questionnaire. Of 6389 data entries made on digital paper, 218 (3%) required correction; of these, 201 (92%) involved a free-form variable and 17 (8%) involved a check-box variable. Digital pens saved an estimated 5 to 6 hours of data-entry time.

CONCLUSIONS
This outbreak provided an opportunity to assess the value of digital pens for decreasing data-entry burden and allowing more timely data analysis in an emergent setting. Depending on the size of the outbreak and complexity of the survey, there is likely a threshold when use of digital pens would provide a clear benefit to outbreak response. As new technology becomes available for use in emergency preparedness settings, public health agencies must continuously review and update response plans and evaluate investigation tools to ensure timely disease control and response activities. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2015;9:349-353).