Todd Stout, FirstWatch Solutions, Inc. - August 2013
How did you first learn about disease surveillance and when did you decide that it was an area of interest for you? Early in my career, I worked in Kansas City, Missouri as a paramedic, and then later in life when I started my business (writing reports and data-related software for EMS agencies), they became my first customer. While working with them in 1998, their Public Health Director, Dr. Rex Archer, brought up the idea of monitoring their EMS dispatch data for trends that might indicate a bio-terror attack. I was fascinated by the idea of using our knowledge of "normal" temporal and geographic patterns of demand for EMS calls, to look for terrorist activity or naturally occurring outbreaks. I ended up creating a utility for them in Microsoft Access that analyzed their EMS dispatch data in real time (24x7x365) and when a statistically significant increase of calls (over expected historical patterns) occurred would send out alerts via email, pager and fax to local EMS and Public Health officials, for follow-up.
What do you do? After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the Anthrax letters, my other report development customers asked if I would turn that little Access-based trend-monitoring-utility into a commercial product. So I began to focus more energy on that aspect of my work, and in 2002 turned that little utility into an Internet-based system called FirstWatch™ for the EMS system in Richmond, Virginia, and upgraded Kansas City's utility to match. Since then, our company (with a lot of help) has grown to provide public safety data intelligence services to 300+ Public Safety Agencies (EMS, Fire, Police, and a few hospitals) around the US and Canada, that provides services to more than 80 million people, and have monitored more than 84 million records in real-time.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I like our software and what we do, but I really like helping and working with people. We are blessed with great customers in public health and public safety who are almost all trying so hard to help their citizens, and I know it sounds corny, but it's an honor to be able to help them do their jobs better and easier. In that same vein, our company has grown to a 'family' of 25 wonderful staff, and with this combination of great customers and great co-workers, I love going to work every day.
What excites you in the work you do? I get really pumped up when we get to help our customers solve problems with data, and make it easier for them to do their jobs, which helps even more people.
Who or what inspires you professionally? In the syndromic surveillance world, there are so many amazing people, but Howard Burkom and Julia Gunn come to mind right away. They are both so smart and capable in different ways, and both made me feel comfortable very early on, when I first joined ISDS. Howard is so smart and accomplished and yet (or because of it), so curious, and he is always working to learn more, from anybody he can, in any situation. Julia is so strong and practical, and willing to speak up for what she believes, and ask the hard questions, but with an eye to getting things done, and done well. Outside of syndromic surveillance, I'm professionally inspired by my Dad, who I worked with as an EMS Consultant. He was responsible for many of the improvements in EMS system design over the last 30 years, and in large part taught me that I could think differently and make a difference in the world.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment or achievement (related to disease surveillance)? I'm proud that our work has brought Public Safety / Emergency Medical Services and Public Health Epidemiology together in many communities, where (usually) they had hardly even talked before we connected them. In a related way, I'm very proud to have helped explain and expand the benefits to public health epidemiologists of using real-time EMS data. In many ways, I feel like part of my role in ISDS is to 'represent' the EMS industry.
How long have you been involved with ISDS? Since the 2nd annual ISDS conference in New York City in 2003.
Why are you an ISDS member? ISDS has always been an effective group that does important and meaningful work, year after year.
What do you value most about your ISDS membership? The personal friendships and professional relationships I've developed. ISDS members are solid people who help each other, and work to make things better.
What is the biggest issue in disease surveillance (in your opinion)? Sadly, it's probably a lack of sustainable funding, followed by a lack of professional epidemiologists to take over as folks retire. I also think that the latest push in health care to provide healthcare in alternative destinations besides hospitals and doctors offices will make it harder to do surveillance. (In EMS we're calling it 'Community Paramedicine' and/or 'Mobile Integrated Healthcare', but it's taking many forms with health care reform and the affordable care act, but healthcare will be happening in people's homes more and more, which may be harder to track.)
What is one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you? I don't know -- I'm a pretty open book! Maybe that I've been a vegetarian since 1986?
Finish this sentence: In 10 years, I will have...
.....been a proud part of ISDS for 20 years!