What is Epidemiology and Why is It So Important?

April 15, 2021

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Sarbjit Sandhu.

The definition of epidemiology from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is “the method used to find the causes of health outcomes and diseases in populations. In epidemiology, the patient is the community and individuals are viewed collectively.” Dr. Sandhu adds that, “Epidemiology is the science of looking at a disease and its impact on a community. It consists of identifying those who are at risk of the disease, why the disease is occurring, and determining how to control or stop the spread of the disease.”

According to Dr. Sandhu, “Epidemiology looks at what is the driving force behind causing an infection. There are typically so many different elements to what is causing the infection, and our main role as infectious disease specialists is trying to prevent that cause from happening. So, this involves looking at ways to address the issues dealing with the infection at all the levels involved, meaning the best way to treat, and prevent it from spreading.”

As of March, the United States has officially been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for over a year. Prior to this epidemic, most people within the general population were not aware of the impact of infectious diseases and the havoc they can cause. However, for a select team of experienced infectious disease specialists like ID Care who analyze, control, and treat the spread of disease, the study of COVID-19 and its spread is just one on a list of many communicable diseases as well as non-communicable infectious diseases that they work with. Known as Epidemiologists, these specialists play a key role in public health and safety.

The Relationship Between Epidemiology and Antibiotic Stewardship

According to Dr. Sandhu, epidemiology and antibiotic stewardship are very much intertwined. He states that, “Antibiotic stewardship is an important aspect of epidemiology because certain infections, like C. diff (C. difficile) or other resistant infections that can be difficult to control in terms of spread, are sometimes related to overuse of antibiotics. That is, overuse or misuse of antibiotics can cause antibiotic resistance or drug resistant organisms – where germs like bacteria no long respond to the antibiotics designed to treat and kill them. This is so important as the germs continue to grow and the infections spread. These are the types of things that epidemiologists worry about and antibiotic usage is definitely associated with them.”

So, it is essential that epidemiology and antibiotic stewardship work together. It is key to first prevent and control the spread of these infections and also to avoid the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, so they actually work against infectious diseases when prescribed.

Why Infectious Disease Epidemiology Programs are Important to Health Facilities

According to the CDC, each year, about 1 in 25 U.S. hospital patients is diagnosed with at least one infection related to hospital care alone; additional infections occur in other healthcare settings as well.

Dr. Sandhu and his fellow ID Care physicians have worked in many New Jersey hospitals throughout the years. They understand what the needs of hospitals are and the role of a strong epidemiologist for these hospitals. Dr. Sandhu states, “It’s critical is look at what the rates of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are, because you really want to work on preventing these types of acquired infections caused by viral, bacterial and fungal pathogens.” These infections can occur from catheter-related urinary tract infections (UTIs) and ventilator-associated pneumonia, to bloodstream infections. Dr. Sandhu continues, “We are always looking at the risk factors for these infections and working with the various leaders and or departments in the hospital that can also contribute to getting the infection under control. Working with these team members is vital for the success of our efforts.”

When considering epidemiology programs in care homes, surgery centers, and so on, Dr. Sandhu says, “These healthcare facilities do want some level of organized infection control. Someone that is involved in infection control in these facilities is important because patients are coming directly from hospitals. So, they are going to be dealing with the same issues that many of the hospitals are also dealing with in terms of determining the driving force behind infections, managing infections, and preventing infections going forward.”

Risks Healthcare Facilities Face by Not Having an Epidemiology Program

While the role of epidemiology has grown over the last several decades and continues to grow, the truth of the matter is, without such programs, healthcare facilities are at significant risk.

From patients to employees, the spread of any infectious disease is extremely dangerous. Lack of an operational epidemiology program can lead to poor patient outcomes related to increased infections, higher rates of hospital-acquired infections, inability to identify risk factors of further infections, and a lack of spread control.

Given the potential magnitude of a spreading infection (case in point COVID-19), departments like the State Health Department and other organizations are definitely involved now and will look at things and question why a healthcare facility doesn’t have an epidemiologist in place to help prevent these situations from happening. It is almost like a mandate at this point.

In the recent year, hospitals with epidemiology programs were able to better manage COVID-19. For example, Dr. Sandhu shares, “ID Care has been able to especially help surgical centers in terms of doing testing and screening prior to any procedure as well as when there is a concern about a patient with coronavirus. We help decide whether they need to be hospitalized or if they can be managed and evaluated without needing hospitalization.”

Community and Clinical Epidemiology in Relation to Infectious Disease

An infectious disease is an illness caused by some organism (i.e., virus, bacteria, fungi, parasite) that is likely to be transmitted to people through environments. Moreover, because the basis of epidemiology is geared towards collecting data to stop the spread of such illness, these two go hand-in-hand. Without both community and clinical epidemiology programs, and the data they collect, the proper treatment of an infectious disease would not happen.

Dr. Sandhu says, “There are so many different elements that go into what is causing an infection and, in epidemiology, the key role is to try to prevent infections from happening. So, it is looking at ways to address the issues, dealing with the infection at all the levels involved, determining the best way to treat it, and then preventing it from spreading.” This has a big impact on patient outcomes in the clinical healthcare setting as well as public health on a broader scale.

What Makes ID Care Epidemiology Programs Different from the Rest?

As leaders within the clinical epidemiology field, for more than 30 years ID Care research and trials have pioneered cutting-edge treatment options. ID Care’s proven epidemiology programs are dedicated to furthering knowledge among the medical community as well as improving the health and wellness of patients and the public. This is especially true when considering COVID-19 pandemic and ID Care’s vital role in both the study and treatment of patients in every clinical setting across New Jersey.

Takeaway About Epidemiology Programs

In conclusion, Dr. Sandhu reinforced that, “Over the last year, we feel like the value of the ID Care team has never been more emphasized. Of course, everyone has been impacted by the pandemic, but our infectious disease specialists have worked tirelessly in terms of looking at all aspects of how the virus has impacted our local communities as well as the healthcare systems we partner with. We are proud to be on the front lines and involved in helping everyone through this challenging time.”

ID Care proudly serves many healthcare facilities throughout New Jersey with leading epidemiology programs and continues to provide expert knowledge and insight on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of infectious diseases. If you have any further questions on designing or implementing an epidemiology program, call 908-281-0610 to schedule a consultation with an ID Care expert, or visit idcare.com to learn more.

Antibiotic Stewardship, Conditions, Infectious Disease Blog, Partner with ID Care, Sandhu, Sarbjit