A New Zealand equine veterinary practice-based surveillance system – our vision
The New Zealand Equine Health Association is an alliance of almost all equine industry groups including the NZVA equine veterinary branch. Its mission is to enhance the health and welfare of NZ equines. Preventing or managing equine disease is a key means by which horse welfare is enhanced and veterinarians are optimally positioned to lead activities in this arena.
Currently, the key methods of collecting information on the health of New Zealand equine population is through targeted research activities and via the Ministry for Primary Industry’s (MPI) disease hotline and their contract with Animal Health Laboratories. While this approach suits the priority needs of government it has some known shortcomings. In order to be able to more effectively manage population health and welfare to prioritise those diseases and conditions with the highest impact, better information is much needed.
Recently a new approach to surveillance has been pioneered that utilises the computerised veterinary practice management systems to capture animal health information. Clinical data on presentation reason and diagnoses is extracted into a dedicated database and analysed at the population level to for example provide baseline information on disease occurrence, enable targeted programmes, detect unusual trends that may indicate an emerging disease threat or welfare issue or to support research activities. The information generated by the system can be combined in a dedicated information hub that feeds back information to all relevant stakeholders, including participating practitioners.
It is the belief of the NZEHA that this approach provides an opportunity to improve New Zealand’s ability to more timely identify and better track key equine diseases, as well as management and environmental factors affecting equine health and welfare. The NZEHA is supporting a small pilot project that includes capturing data in real time from a single veterinary practice as well some additional analysis of practice data in a further two equine practices.
The project team comprise of the NZEHA Executive Advisor Dr Trish Pearce, Drs Petra and Uli Muellner of Epi-interactive, Dr Carolyn Gates of Massey University’s Epicentre and members from the NZ Equine Veterinary Association Surveillance subcommittee. Funding is currently being sought for the next stage of the project.
Dr Muellner recently spoke at the New Zealand Equine Veterinary Association conference to provide an overview of the vision for the system and a summary of progress to date and seek feedback from the audience on proposed solutions aimed at addressing the issues of maintaining client confidentiality and the hurdles associated with data entry or diagnostic information.