Descriptive Epidemiology

Data sources

As expressed in the title, descriptive epidemiology deals with the description of the occurrence of diseases or functional impairments in the population without regard to causal or other hypotheses. Depending on the legal regulations, various sources may provide data for descriptive morbidity statistics (a more detailed description can be found in Lilienfeld and Stolley, 1994):

• Disease control programs such as disease reporting systems in case of communicable disease or case registries for cancer, cardiovascular, and other diseases

• Tax-financed public-assistance programs (public aid to the disabled, department of veterans affairs, ...)

• Records of industrial absenteeism and periodic physical examination in industry

• Data from medical care plans, public or private health insurance plans, state disability insurance plans, data from retirement boards, hospital discharge data

• Morbidity surveys on population samples

However, one has to have in mind that most sources of morbidity statistics provide information only on special population groups, such as the group covered by a particular health insurance plan. Also, the underlying population served by a facility, such as a hospital, is not well defined. Permanent population-based registries may provide valuable epidemiologic data for some specific disease, but completeness is crucial and makes it necessary to collect information from many sources. Mortality data are also of direct interest to the epidemiologist, as they may serve as proxies for morbidity information about a population. Nationwide or statewide death registration

"Descriptive Epidemiology"

Sporadic Systematic observation \ surveillance

Hypotheses on causes of disease

"Analytical Epidemiology"

Specific observational studies, Quantification of associations, Control of potential biases

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