NetEpi, which is short for “Network-enabled Epidemiology”, is a project to create a suite of free, open source tools for epidemiology and public health practice. The project web page is at http://www.netepi.org. Anyone with an interest in population health epidemiology or public health informatics is encouraged to examine the prototype tools and to consider contributing to their further development. Contributions which involve formal and/or informal testing of the tools in a wide range of circumstances and environments are particularly welcome, as is assistance with design, programming and documentation tasks.
Currently three NetEpi packages are available, described in more detail below. Release notes and installation instructions (including details of the third-party open source software packages upon which the NetEpi tools are based), initial documentation, example screen shots and source code files are all available from the NetEpi project page.
- NetEpi Case Manager
This is a tool for securely collecting structured information about cases and contacts of diseases (and other conditions) of public health importance, through Web browsers and the Internet. New data collection forms can be designed and deployed quickly by epidemiologists, using a “point-and-click” interface, without the need for knowledge of or training in any programming language. Data can then be collected from users of the system, who can be located anywhere in the world, onto a centralised database. All that is needed by users of the system is a relatively recent Web browser and an Internet connection. In some respects, NetEpi Case Manager is like a Web-enabled version of the data entry facilities in the very popular Epi Info suite of programmes published by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- NetEpi Analysis
This is a tool for conducting epidemiological analysis of data sets, both large and small, either through a Web browser interface, or via a programmatic interface from the open source Python programming language. In some respects it is similar to the analysis facilities included in Epi Info, except that NetEpi Analysis is designed to be installed on servers and accessed remotely via Web browsers (or other remote procedure call or web service mechanisms), rather than being installed on individual desktop or laptop computers.
- NetEpi PHREDSS
This package contains some infrastructure components of the Public Health Real-time Emergency Department Surveillance System (PHREDSS) which is being established in New South Wales, Australia to provide early warning of potential bioterrorist attacks and other public health emergencies. The components relate primarily to the handling of HL7 messages used to communicate public health surveillance information. These components are made available because they may have some utility to other jurisdictions which are planning to establish similar near real-time public health surveillance systems.
Please note that currently NetEpi tools should be considered experimental and should not be used for “production” purposes. However, we hope that development will proceed rapidly and that versions suitable for everyday use will be ready some time in 2005.
The current prototype versions of the NetEpi tools can only be installed on Linux, Unix or Apple Mac OS X computers, although they may be accessed from Web browsers running on any type of computer. Future versions will also support installation on computers which use the Microsoft Windows operating system.