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Public Health Rep. 1997 Nov-Dec;112(6):506-12.

Childhood asthma surveillance using computerized billing records: a pilot study.

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  • 1Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02111, USA.



This paper describes a pilot project to develop and implement a low-cost system for ongoing surveillance of childhood asthma in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.


The authors organized a planning workshop to solicit information and ideas for an asthma surveillance system, bringing together national experts with Milwaukee professionals and community representatives involved in the prevention and treatment of asthma. Based on recommendations from the workshop, a pilot surveillance project was implemented in Milwaukee County using records of emergency room visits and hospital admissions for asthma abstracted from the computerized billing records of the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin (CHW), retrospectively for 1993 and prospectively for 1994. Retrospective data were also sought from the other hospital emergency departments in Milwaukee County to evaluate the representativeness of the CHW data. Surveillance data were used to evaluate utilization of care by patient subgroups and to describe temporal patterns in emergency room visits.


Of the emergency department visits for asthma in Milwaukee County in 1993, CHW accounted for 94% among infants less than 1 year of age, 89% among children ages 1 through 5 years, and only 59% among children between the ages of 6 and 18 years. In 1994, the 7% of asthmatic children with repeat hospital admissions accounted for 38% of all hospital admissions for asthma and the 20% with repeat emergency department visits accounted for 50% of all emergency visits. Emergency visits for asthma showed clear seasonality, with a peak in the fall and a smaller peak in the spring.


Computerized medical billing data provide an opportunity for asthma surveillance at a relatively low cost. The data obtained are useful for tracking trends in exacerbations of asthma and the use of medical services for asthma care and should prove valuable in targeting interventions.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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