Scan statistics have been used extensively to identify temporal clusters of health events. We describe the temporal cluster detection methodology adopted by the EUROCAT (European Surveillance of Congenital Anomalies) monitoring system.MethodsSince 2001, EUROCAT has implemented variable window width scan statistic for detecting unusual temporal aggregations of congenital anomaly cases. The scan windows are based on numbers of cases rather than being defined by time.The methodology is imbedded in the EUROCAT Central Database for annual application to centrally held registry data. The methodology was incrementally adapted to improve the utility and to address statistical issues. Simulation exercises were used to determine the power of the methodology to identify periods of raised risk (of 1 to 18 months).ResultsIn order to operationalize the scan methodology, a number of adaptations were needed, including: estimating date of conception as unit of time; deciding the maximum length (in time) and recency of clusters of interest; reporting of multiple and overlapping significant clusters; replacing the Monte Carlo simulation with a lookup table to reduce computation time; and placing a threshold on underlying population change and estimating the false positive rate by simulation. Exploration of power found that raised risk periods lasting 1 month are unlikely to be detected except when the relative risk and case counts are high.ConclusionsThe variable window width scan statistic is a useful tool for the surveillance of congenital anomalies. Numerous adaptations have improved the utility of the original methodology in the context of temporal cluster detection in congenital anomalies.
- Congenital anomalies