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In order to achieve an accurate overview of how often respiratory infections occur in the Netherlands, it is important to know how many patients are admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection. The most effective approach is automatic registration of data that is routinely collected in hospitals. These findings are from the doctoral research done by Sierk Marbus, who defended his PhD at Leiden University on Wednesday, 22 September.

Acute respiratory infections, such as those caused by the influenza virus, pneumococcal bacteria and the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, cause a great deal of illness and death worldwide. Understanding how to prevent these infections is important in order to take appropriate measures as needed.

Assessing the options for surveillance systems

Marbus explored how a surveillance system could be set up in hospitals. There are surveillance systems already in place that make use of data on patients with respiratory infections consulting a general practitioner (in cooperation with the NIVEL Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research) and national mortality monitoring data (in cooperation with Statistics Netherlands). However, those systems do not include data on hospital admissions. Marbus assessed various options for implementing surveillance, concluding that an automated system using data that is already routinely collected in hospitals would be the best option. This concept is currently undergoing further development. The envisioned system would use encryption that makes it impossible for RIVM to trace the data back to specific individuals.

Designing a system for long-term use

COVID-19 surveillance in hospitals is a joint effort by RIVM in conjunction with the National Intensive Care Evaluation (NICE) Foundation and the National Coordination Centre for Patient Distribution (LCPS). The data collected in this context is an exceptional initiative in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. Hospitals are compiling data on the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital and the course of disease in these cases. This is extremely time-consuming for the hospitals and would be unsustainable in the long term. 
An automated system is necessary in order to establish a system that is designed for long-term use both during an epidemic and at other times. This will help us be better prepared for new outbreaks of established and novel respiratory infections.