Sentinel surveillance is one of the simplest and most effective methods for collecting data about public health issues.  It involves selecting a small, representative sample of the population to monitor the occurrence of specific diseases or conditions.

Also, sentinel surveillance helps monitor trends, detect outbreaks, and evaluate interventions seamlessly. This allows public health professionals to make data-driven quality preventive and control decisions.

In this article, we will explain how sentinel surveillance works, and how to use Formplus to create effective sentinel surveys

Understanding Sentinel Surveillance in Surveys

Sentinel surveillance is a survey approach that collects data from a population of interest. It enables you to monitor trends, identify challenges, and review the performance of interventions.

Sentinel surveys are typically conducted at regular intervals, to provide continuous and comparable data over time. They also focus on specific indicators or outcomes.

When conducting sentinel surveys, you need standardized and validated tools and procedures to ensure data quality and reliability. For example, using carefully participant chosen based on criteria such as geographic location, risk factors, service availability, and other relevant characteristics.

Benefits and Applications of Sentinel Surveillance

  • Exploring the Advantages of Intervention

Sentinel surveillance allows you to measure the impact of a specific intervention, policy, or program on a specific population. For example, you can see the impact of a new vaccination or treatment on a patient at one sentinel site compared to a patient at another site.

  • Enhance Early Detection

Sentinel surveillance enables you to track disease or condition trends that are relevant to public health, societal research, and market intelligence. For example, you can track an outbreak of an infectious disease, track changes in health behavior, or measure customer satisfaction.

Implementing Sentinel Surveillance Surveys

The following are steps to follow when implementing a sentinel surveillance survey:

  • Purpose of the Surveillance: Clearly define the purpose of the surveillance- what disease or condition do you want to monitor? What are you hoping to learn from the surveillance?
  • Target Population: Identify the target population for the surveillance- the people you want to collect their data. The target population should be representative of the larger population that you are interested in monitoring.
  • Sentinel Sites: Sentinel sites are the locations where data will be collected. Carefully select these sites to ensure that they are representative of the target population.
  • Data Collection Methods: Use a consistent and reliable method to collect data from different sources.
  • Data Analysis and Reporting: Efficiently analyze and report data from sentinel surveillance surveys. It allows you to detect issues early, and find interventions if necessary.

Related – How to Create a Survey Report In 5 Steps

Integration with Existing Survey Systems

One of the easiest ways to integrate sentinel surveys is by simply adding your sentinel surveillance survey questions to your existing survey. While this is an effective way to integrate your two systems, it’s not always effective.

You could also create a separate sentinel surveillance survey that is linked to the existing survey. This allows for more flexibility in the design of the sentinel surveillance survey, but it also requires more coordination between the two systems.

Potential Synergies and Efficiencies Gained Through Integration

Minimizes Effort Duplication

Sentinel surveys increase efficiency and streamline times and resources by using the same sampling frame, questionnaire design, data collection tools, and quality assurance mechanisms for both types of surveys.

Increase the Representativeness and Validity of Sentinel Surveillance Data

The integration of the two surveys offers greater flexibility in the design of the sentinel surveillance survey, which could help in the monitoring of developing or re-emerging diseases.

Challenges and Strategies for Harmonizing Data Collection and Analysis

Data Quality and Reliability

Keeping track of the accuracy and reliability of the data collected and analyzed across different surveys can be difficult, especially when they have different protocols, verification, and validation procedures.

Conflict of Interest

Also, there could be conflicts or trade-offs between the objectives, priorities, and expectations of different survey systems, especially if they have different stakeholders or funding sources.

Data Privacy

You need to always keep the confidentiality and security of data across different survey systems. This can be very difficult if the two surveys have different legal or ethical requirements or guidelines for data sharing or use.

Case Studies and Examples

Example 1

COVID-19 Using the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS)

This system taps into the already existing network of over 150 public health labs across 125 countries that keep an eye on flu viruses and illnesses. The system keeps track of how far the virus is spreading by testing a few hundred sentinel samples each week.

It also shows how fast COVID-19 is spreading, how bad it’s getting, the risk factors are driving it, how genetics are changing, and how the pandemic is affecting the health system.

It can also help understand the relative contribution of COVID-19 and influenza to the syndromic disease surveillance systems. This provides a baseline for future evaluation of COVID-19 interventions such as vaccination.

Example 2

Sentinel Surveillance for COVID-19 in Hawaii

The system uses a sample of patients with flu-like symptoms or acute respiratory infections (ARCIs) from across the state to identify COVID cases. The sample selection is based on the geographical and age distribution of the state.

This system provides early warning of COVID-19 within communities and helps guide public health response and resource allocation.

Ethical Considerations and Data Privacy

Informed consent: explain to the participants the purpose of the survey, the types of data that will be collected, and how the data will be used.

Confidentiality: maintain the confidentiality of participants’ data- don’t share respondents’ data with unauthorized individuals or organizations.

Data protection: Store data securely and that access to the data should be restricted to authorized individuals.

Read: What are Ethical Practices in Market Research?

How Formplus Can Help in Sentinel Surveillance?

Formplus is an online survey tool that allows you to create, distribute and analyze all kinds of surveys, including sentinel surveillance. You also don’t need to worry about data security and privacy, all Formplus user data is encrypted and is GDPR-compliant.

Here are some of the ways that Formplus can help in sentinel surveillance:

  • Create and distribute surveys: You can create surveys using a variety of question types, and customize the form design to fit your brand. You can also distribute your surveys through a variety of channels, including email, social media, and your website.
  • Collect data: Formplus collects data securely, encrypts it, and stores it in the cloud. You can access your data from anywhere, and you can export it to a variety of formats for analysis.
  • Analyze data: The Formplus responses and analytics boards allow you to visualize your data, detect patterns and identify trends in your survey data.

Practical Application of Formplus in Sentinel Surveillance

  • Monitor Disease/Infection Incidence: Formplus allows you to collect data on the symptoms and signs of a particular disease. You can then use the data to track the incidence of the disease over time.
  • Track Public Health Intervention Performance: You can set up a survey to gather information about how a public health measure is working. For example, you could ask how many people have quit smoking after going to a rehab facility.
  • Identify emerging or re-emerging Diseases: you can also create a survey with Formplus to collect data on the symptoms and signs of diseases that are not commonly seen in your region. This data can be used to identify emerging or re-emerging diseases.


Sentinel surveillance plays an important role in public health surveillance. It helps to reduce the risk of transmission of disease, track the impact of public health measures, and measure the impact of a disease on specific populations.

However, sentinel surveillance has its limitations; it’s not always a reliable source of information, and respondent data could get compromised if not handled carefully. As a result, you need a valid and reliable survey tool like Formplus to ensure the accuracy of the survey and protect the confidentiality of respondents’ data.

  • Moradeke Owa
  • on 6 min read


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