The Bureau of Communicable Disease at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene receives an average of more than 1000 reports daily via electronic laboratory reporting. Rapid recognition of any laboratory reporting drop-off of test results for 1 or more diseases is necessary to avoid delays in case investigation and outbreak detection.
We modified our outbreak detection approach using the prospective space-time permutation scan statistic in SaTScan. Instead of searching for spatiotemporal clusters of high case counts, we reconceptualized “space” as “laboratory” and instead searched for clusters of recent low reporting, overall and for each of 52 diseases and 10 hepatitis test types, within individual laboratories. Each analysis controlled for purely temporal trends affecting all laboratories and accounted for multiple testing.
A SAS program automatically created input files, invoked SaTScan, and further processed SaTScan analysis results and output summaries to a secure folder. Analysts reviewed output weekly and reported concerning drop-offs to coordinators, who liaised with reporting laboratory staff to investigate and resolve issues.
During a 42-week evaluation period, October 2017 to July 2018, we detected 62 unique signals of reporting drop-offs. Of these, 39 (63%) were verified as true drop-offs, including failures to generate or transmit files and programming errors. For example, a hospital laboratory stopped reporting influenza after changing a multiplex panel result from “positive” to “detected.” Six drop-offs were detected despite low numbers of expected reports missing (<10 per drop-off).
Our novel application of SaTScan identified a manageable number of possible electronic laboratory reporting drop-offs for investigation. Ongoing maintenance requirements are minimal but include accounting for laboratory mergers and referrals. Automated analyses facilitated rapid identification and correction of electronic laboratory reporting errors, even with small numbers of expected reports missing, suggesting that our approach might be generalizable to smaller jurisdictions.