In mid-July, HHS abruptly took over the COVID-19 data reporting process from the CDC.
Hospitals are now required to report data through either the state dashboard, which will then provide information to HHS, or submit data to HHS directly. The change also increased the number of data points hospitals are required to report on a daily basis.
Hospitals executives, Congressional leaders and state attorneys general, among others, have asked the federal government to revert back to the original reporting system, but HHS maintains that the CDC data was incomplete and HHS is better able to collect more data in a streamlined way. HHS has also restricted access to the data to public health officials and is not publicly reporting the same information that the CDC did.
Here, 11 health IT executives answer the question: If you had an audience with the HHS Secretary Alex Azar, what would you say to him?
Greg Bryant. Director of IT at Baylor Scott & White Texas Spine and Joint Hospital (Tyler): I would ask both if they felt confident in the figures they have to date. I would want to know if they think the numbers are inflated or deflated due to lack of resources to give an accurate count. Before making any more changes, I feel they should broaden their net to include more health system IT leaders to gather feedback on how data collection and data analytics is being used to assist in this pandemic.
Richard Temple. Vice President and CIO of Deborah Heart and Lung Center (Browns Mills, N.J.): I would ask them to fully recognize the extra workload that the rapidly-evolving regulations are placing on already stressed caregivers and, with that in mind, to keep changes to reporting requirements to a bare minimum; just to those that have shown themselves to be clinically relevant.
I would also ask them to go back to the previous reporting protocol that went through the CDC, because that process allowed us the best visibility into knowing how things were going in our community, as well as at the national level. The switch from CDC reporting to the HHS Protect system was sudden and did not provide us any lead time to adapt our processes. Being in the middle of a pandemic, we are all working in overdrive. The very last thing we needed was a complete overhaul on how we report our data, especially with no notice.
As we are trying to prepare for the fall and a potential second surge combined with flu season, it was an extraordinary distraction for our team when the focus should be on the overwhelming task at hand of navigating patients through this public health emergency, especially since this new reporting is not providing any additional insights into the data that can be used meaningfully to help us in this crisis.
Tamara Havenhill-Jacobs. CIO of Bozeman (Mont.) Health: Increase transparency around how the data provided is being utilized and what is actually being done as a result. We believe there are could be opportunities for health systems to leverage the results of these data submissions to identify and know where gaps or opportunities exist across our geographic areas to offer support options when critical shortages are experienced.
Jason Fischer. CIO, Information Systems of PIH Health (Whittier, Calif.): Less shooting from the hip and more thoughtful analysis of what was needed rather than the variety of changes along the way. While I understand that needs do shift, the daily adjustments and allowing individual counties to identify data needs has been problematic for accurate reporting.
Aaron Young. CIO of Summit Healthcare (Show Low, Ariz.): Specifically define what is to be reported and don’t leave room for interpretation. Streamline reporting requirements and align reporting requirements across local, state, and federal agencies to reduce the workload healthcare facilities. Healthcare organizations in crisis mode required additional resources that could have been used elsewhere to complete reporting requirements.
Roger Neal. Vice President and COO of DRH Health (Duncan, Okla.): I think I would tell them to get in touch with what is happening! Go see it, walk a hospital floor, see and understand what data is good data and what isn’t before just mandating all this stuff that makes no sense. Get out of the office and get some perspective.
Gene Thomas. CIO of Memorial Hospital at Gulfport (Miss.): First, make all results mandated for EMR vendors and labs digital and standardized. Secondly, do whatever it takes to get rapid in house tests in the hands of healthcare providers. While that is being put in place, do whatever it takes to reduce turnaround times to 24 hours or less, with standardized digital results.
Jim Feen. Senior Vice President and CIO of Southcoast Health System (New Bedford, Mass.): From what can seem like a minor reporting change, impacts of these asks can be very deep to clinical workflow and clinician practice and consume resource time that is already very thin. We collectively take accuracy in the COVID-19 reporting process extremely seriously, with public health in mind. With our collective focus on healing the sick and keeping our patients and staff safe, we know we are not alone in the inordinate amount of time spent working in response to the large number of reporting changes that have come through the pipeline.
Bob Foster. Senior Vice President and CIO/HIPAA security officer at South Georgia Medical Center (Valdosta, Ga.): I would ask for greater collaboration between the reporting entities and those requesting the data. I think the other huge ask should be: are we collecting this information for the science or for the political ask? We need information to help trend, identify and make decisions, not to defend or attack political opposition.
Ash Goel, MD. CMIO of Bronson (Kalamazoo, Mich.): Making the connection across multiple data and regulatory reporting needs that reduce the need to submit the data in multiple locations and automate reporting (make sure to understand that changes take time and connect this to need for transparency).
Bhumil Shah. Chief Analytics Officer of Informatics and Technology at Contra Costa (Calif.) Health Services: Any reporting adds additional burden on hospital staff. Also, the quality of manually reported data can vary. Only collect the minimum data that is actionable and work with EMR vendors to automate as much of the reporting as possible.
More articles on data analytics:
Missouri COVID-19 data backlog cleared, but delays persist, health officials say
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Backlogs in Orange County COVID-19 data reporting artificially decrease case rate
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