What is Surveillance

Surveillance of healthcare infections (HAIs) refers to the monitoring and reporting of these events. Surveillance of HAIs is important because of the research demonstrating that up to one-third of infections can be prevented through having infection and control surveillance programs in place (Haley et al 1985). 

Each year in Australia there are about 200,000 healthcare associated infections (Cruickshank et al 2008). This imposes a significant cost on the healthcare system, as well as significant morbidity and other costs on affected individuals. 

Surveillance of healthcare associated infection assists in identifying: 

  •    Whether there is an infection problem. 
  •    The magnitude of the problem. 
  •    The factors that contribute to infections.

Surveillance also allows hospitals and clinicians to measure the effectiveness of strategies that are implemented to decrease infection rates. Infection rate data should be used in a positive way to improve the quality and safety of healthcare. Going through the process of undertaking surveillance will not usually influence infection rates appreciably itself, unless surveillance is linked to a prevention strategy. The information must be fed back to those who need to know: infection control nurses, surgeons, intensive care clinicians and hospital management, for it to be used to drive change. VICNISS reports data directly back to health services who are able to compare performance with similar facilities, and also the Department of Health & Human Services who monitor all aspects of health service performance.

Haley RW, Culver DH, White JW, Morgan WM, Emori TG, Munn VP, Hooton TM. The efficacy of infection surveillance and control programs in preventing nosocomial infections in US hospitals. Am J Epidemiol. 1985 Feb;121(2):182-205.

Cruickshank M, and Ferguson J (eds). The Role of Surveillance (Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, July 2008).