Residential address errors in public health surveillance data: A description and analysis of the impact on geocoding
The residential addresses of persons with reportable communicable diseases are used increasingly for spatial monitoring and cluster detection, and public health may direct interventions based upon the results of routine spatial surveillance. There has been little assessment, however, of the quality of address data in reportable disease notifications and of the corresponding impact of these errors on geocoding and routine public health practices. The objectives of this study were to examine address errors for a selected reportable disease in a large urban center in Canada and to assess the impact of identified errors on geocoding and the estimated spatial distribution of the disease. We extracted data for all notifications of campylobacteriosis from the Montreal public health department from 1995 to 2008 and used an address verification algorithm to determine the validity of the residential address for each case and to suggest corrections for invalid addresses. We assessed the types of address errors as well as the resulting positional errors, calculating the distance between the original address and the correct address as well as changes in disease density. Address errors and missing addresses were prevalent in the public health records (10% and 5%, respectively) and they influenced the observed distribution of campylobacteriosis in Montreal, with address correction changing case location by a median of 1.1 km. Further examination of the extent of address errors in public health data is essential, as is the investigation of how these errors impact routine public health functions.