Development, implementation, and pilot study of a sentinel network ("The Watchtowers") for monitoring emergency primary health care activity in Norway
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Background: In Norway there is a shortage of valid health activity statistics from the primary care out-of-hours services and the pre-hospital emergency health care system. There is little systematic information available because data registration is lacking or is only recorded periodically, and definitions of variables are not consistent. Method: A representative sample of Norwegian municipalities and out-of-hours districts was contracted to establish a sentinel network, "The Watchtowers", and procedures were developed for collecting continuous data from out-of-hours services. All contacts, either per telephone or direct attendance, are recorded during day and night. The variables are registered in a computer program developed by the National Centre for Emergency Primary Health Care, and sent by email in Excel-file format to the Centre on a monthly basis. Results: The selection process yielded a group of 18 municipalities, with a fair degree of representativeness for Norwegian municipalities as a whole. The sample has 212,921 inhabitants, which constitutes 4.6% of the total Norwegian population. During a pilot period lasting three months the Watchtowers recorded all individual contacts. The procedures for registration, submitting and checking data worked satisfactorily. There was little data missing, and during the last three months of 2006 a total of 23,346 contacts were registered. Conclusion: We have been able to establish a sentinel network with a fair degree of representativeness for Norwegian out-of-hours districts and municipalities. The data collected reflect national activities from casualty clinics in Norway. Such data are useful for both research and system improvements.