Matte also made some personal recommendations for developing a public health surveillance system to measure and to mitigate the oil spill’s impact. However, in light of very limited resources for building surveillance capacity, he also emphasized balancing the value of any particular tool or approach with its cost.
Throughout the course of the workshop, several participants emphasized the need for immediate data collection and sample archiving. Lynn Goldman elaborated on the need for immediate health and environmental data collection and analysis, as well as the need for clear communication with members of the public about the what data means to their health and safety and about the uncertainties and limits of what can be learned from those data.
William Farland commented that the Gulf oil disaster provides an opportunity to gain a better understanding of exposure profiles (i.e., who is being exposed) and exposure routes. However, because of the disaster’s complexity, data collection will require comprehensive, long-term, and coordinated efforts between environmental health professionals in the public (i.e., local, state, and federal government levels), academia, and private sectors.
Moreover, there is a critical need to collect mental health data as soon as possible and to use those data to steer at-risk populations toward available mental health services, said Howard Oskofsky. When assessing the disaster’s mental health impact, he emphasized the need for collaboration with local communities, the importance of generating both qualitative and quantitative data, and the importance of considering the special needs of children and adolescents.
Daniel Masys described the Veteran Administration’s (VA’s) computerized patient records in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and the value of electronic health records (EHRs) in assessing the health impacts of disasters in general. He also recommended creating a Gulf Region Health Information Exchange to pool health data from practice-based EHRs across the region so that health effects can be more effectively monitored.
Finally, John Bailar reflected on many of the issues around surveillance that had been addressed up until that point. He elaborated on Matte’s distinction between surveillance and research; emphasized, as so many other expert panelists did, the urgency of collecting data as soon as possible; and discussed the nature, scope, and cost of the type of surveillance system needed.