Solving the Disconnect in Public Health Data by Combining Data-Sharing Strategies with Health Analytics Technology

Solving the Disconnect in Public Health Data by Combining Data-Sharing Strategies with Health Analytics Technology

Imagine a Fortune 500 company that’s entering a new market. It gathers and analyzes customer demographics, buying behaviors, competitive intelligence and market trends. Then when its market-entry project is complete, it throws all that work away, starting from scratch the next time it undertakes a new initiative.

Sounds crazy, right? It is. Any company that hoped to remain successful would take a more strategic approach. It would invest budget, time and effort to create a data sharing and analytics platform it could repurpose again and again.

If the wisdom of that strategy is obvious in the private sector, then why haven’t public-sector organizations been able to apply the same concept – especially for health and human services (HHS) data? Why have so few managed to create reusable platforms to gather, share and leverage available public health data to improve services to residents?

A big impediment has been lack of commitment at the highest levels in building a resilient infrastructure for public health data – a shortcoming exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. With public health data siloed and incompatible, federal, state and local agencies struggled to capture data from disparate sources and gain rapid insights into health impacts that would guide the most effective response.

The good news is that there are proven strategies and technologies for building out the nation’s public health data infrastructure – and empowering agencies at the federal, state and local level with real-time analytics to gain new visibility, optimize resident services and improve health equity.

Overcoming Public Health Data Obstacles

These issues are top of mind as HHS agencies look back on National Public Health Week 2022, which wrapped up on April 10. They recognize the need for more robust infrastructure for public health data – and some stumbling blocks to achieving that goal.

In the American Public Health Association’s “State of the Public Health Union” webcast, Harvard professor of social epidemiology Nancy Krieger, Ph.D., expressed it this way:

“Public health people feel like, ‘Wow, this is way bigger than us. What are we supposed to do?’ [But there are] specific public health skills that we bring to the table. … It’s got to be people that understand something about measuring and monitoring health to make those data available and make them available in a way that is actionable.”

At least the federal government is beginning to respond with dollars. President Biden’s 2023 budget would invest $10 billion – a 28% increase over 2022 levels – for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to augment the CDC’s capabilities, including building advanced public health systems and modernizing collection of public health data;  setting aside $250 million specifically for data modernization and forecasting for pandemic preparedness.

The CDC is also collaborating with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC)

to improve interoperability of public health data across states and localities. The organization’s $30 billion Data Modernization Initiative, launched in 2020, is focused on building a data foundation, automating data delivery to state health departments, and accelerating data into action. Key to that effort, says CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, is advancing from a mindset of “my data” to “our data.”

ONC, meanwhile, has launched a new initiative in its U.S. Core Data for Interoperability program, called USCDI+, to align data standards, datasets and implementation specs across federal and state agencies. The goal is to enable a nationwide model for public health data.

Central to the success of these efforts will be addressing not only technology but also user experience (UX). HHS stakeholders need ways to consume, share and act on public health data through the right channels at the right times easily and securely.

Data Sharing and Health Analytics

HHS agencies shouldn’t wait, however, to build out public health data infrastructure in ways that benefit their own constituencies. Governments at the federal, state and local levels can invest in strategies and technologies for sharing health data across agencies and achieving effective community health analytics (CHA).

For instance, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has created EpiQuery, a health information tool based on the Voyatek CHA platform. EpiQuery provides on-demand access to health data, self-service analytics and user-friendly visualizations. The resource consolidations 10 million records from vital-records datasets, disease surveillance and more. It’s used by government employees, researchers and the public to inform policy, guide programs and promote health equity.

In Virginia, the Framework for Addiction Analysis and Community Transformation (FAACT) shares data among criminal justice, state and local police, forensic sciences, private healthcare systems and other organizations to combat opioid addiction. The state leveraged the same platform to track and respond to COVID-19. It’s now extending the investment with Virginia Analysis System for Trafficking (VAST), an initiative to fight human trafficking.

Effective CHA covers a range of public health-related data, including communicable- and chronic-disease surveillance, social services, healthcare consumption, environmental monitoring and criminal justice. It integrates with dynamic data sources to automatically load current data and aggregate it by geography. Preloaded national public health datasets and precomputed benchmarks can add context.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call that it’s past time to shore up the nation’s public health data infrastructure. As part of that effort, federal, state and local HHS agencies can leverage proven strategies and technologies to better share, analyze and act on public health data – and improve health outcomes for residents.