Availability

Although an evaluator may be able to obtain a sample of data for research purposes, it may be difficult or expensive for a biosurveillance organization to obtain the same data on a routine basis. If routine collection is not feasible, it may not be worth studying informational value (or at least this knowledge may help to set research priorities). Availability of surveillance data is often far easier to assess than informational value, suggesting that data availability may be a more efficient criteria for screening potential types of data than informational value (Wagner et al., 2001).

An evaluator can estimate availability as the number of organizations in a biosurveillance region that own the data, the capabilities of their information systems to provide the data, and any legal and proprietary business concerns that influence the willingness of the owners of the data to provide them for biosurveillance purposes. At one extreme, there may be organizations that already aggregate the data for other purposes at the regional level (e.g., the data aggregators mentioned earlier), or the data may come from a highly consolidated industry, such as the retail industry, as discussed in the next chapter. At the other extreme, the data may be owned by a large number of small physician practices and hospitals.

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