As the COVID-19 pandemic persists into a second year and conducting disease surveillance continues to be an important component of public health responses, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, has entered into an agreement with Atlanta-based InductiveHealth Informatics to facilitate access by additional state and local governments to the APL-developed Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics, or ESSENCE.

ESSENCE, which APL created in 1997 and continues to enhance, is a disease surveillance system that helps users clean and process large amounts of health-related data. In addition to enabling public health officials to maintain situational awareness of the health of their communities on a routine basis, the system’s algorithms analyze data to search for anomalies that might indicate an outbreak. ESSENCE has also been used to monitor disease outbreaks following mass gatherings, assist in disaster recovery efforts and track opioid-related deaths.

ESSENCE utilizes data such as emergency room and urgent care visits, as well as why those visits occurred, along with other gathered information. Users, like public health epidemiologists and infection control practitioners, can then perform queries to search for combinations of signs of symptoms that may indicate a surge.

APL’s commercial partnership with InductiveHealth Informatics will expand the system’s reach, allowing InductiveHealth to offer ESSENCE to their customers and provide a syndromic surveillance software-as-a-service capability. The agreement also better positions APL to focus on ESSENCE-related research and development, emphasizing new data sources, novel analytics and forecasting while exploring other opportunities to grow the tool in alignment with APL’s National Health Mission Area pillars of predictive health, assured care and global health security.

“This is an exciting partnership for APL as it will allow our researchers to focus on continued improvement and expansion of ESSENCE while InductiveHealth Informatics aids in its application,” said Sheri Lewis, who manages APL’s Health Protection and Assurance program area. “Disease surveillance has never been more important, but we want the tools we use in emergency situations, such as pandemics, to be the tools we’re using every day. This agreement helps further that goal.”

Currently, ESSENCE is used by more than 25 jurisdictions, including at state, regional, and county or city levels; nationally by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and globally by the Department of Defense. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been an essential tool in filling testing and contact tracing gaps to help track the spread of SARS-CoV-2.