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An evaluation of three policies for updating product categories in the National Retail Data Monitor.

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The RODS Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


A problem in biosurveillance is how frequently to update controlled vocabularies that identify various data elements such as laboratory tests and over-the-counter healthcare products. More frequent updates improve completeness of data captured over time, but introduction of new codes into a surveillance system may cause false alarms when codes are aggregated into analytic categories. We studied the effect of three policies for updating UPCs, the controlled vocabulary for over-the-counter healthcare products used by the National Retail Data Monitor. To compare different policies for updating, we analyzed historical data from two cities for the 18 product categories of the National Retail Data Monitor under annual, quarterly, or monthly UPC update policies. We measured the effect on data completeness and false alarm rate. We found that the monthly update policy had the highest data completeness and led to the fewest number of additional false alarms. Overall, monthly updating of UPCs was the superior policy.

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