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May 16, 1990

National Morbidity Data Have Their Beginnings in Offices of Private Practice Physicians

JAMA. 1990;263(19):2564-2565. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440190014003

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PHYSICIANS become the eyes and ears of the Public Health Service when they report infectious diseases to their state or local health departments.

Accurate and timely reporting by physicians in private practice often can mean the difference between a local outbreak and an epidemic, public health officials say.

Physicians' fidelity in reporting ranges from "abominable" to exemplary, depending on the disease, CDC epidemiologists say. Although most surveillance programs don't need complete reporting to be useful, underreporting does impair the CDC's ability to monitor short- and long-term trends, alert health care professionals to important changes in these trends, and estimate the magnitude of morbidity and mortality.

Emphasizes Steven Teutsch, MD, director of the CDC's Division of Surveillance and Epidemiology: "We are absolutely dependent. Without reports, our hands are tied because we don't know what's going on out there."

States Have Own Preferences  Today, all states and territories participate in a morbidity