Already flush with data, the healthcare industry is now facing a new data challenge – how to leverage the tsunami of data created by the COVID-19 pandemic to make decisions that will keep patients and the public safe and healthy.
COVID-19 has placed extreme strain on healthcare systems that have at times struggled to manage the influx of severely ill patients. The pandemic has also forced the closure of businesses and schools, which in different ways create their own public health crises. While much about COVID-19 and what is expected for the rest of 2020 remains unknown, one thing is clear – data is playing a pivotal role in monitoring the pandemic and will be crucial to guiding response efforts.
Almost immediately, organizations across the country began publishing COVID-19 prevalence trackers and dashboards – with the most commonly cited being Johns Hopkins U.S. County Level COVID-19 Tracking Map. Other dashboards such as Inovalon’s Population Health Insights: COVID-19 Compass dashboard provide healthcare stakeholders, employers, municipalities and the general public with data tracking the COVID-19 prevalence on a global, state and county level and other COVID-19-related data to inform response efforts.
COVID-19 Tracking and Surveillance
But what’s being done with all this data?
While there are many ways COVID-19 dashboards can be leveraged during this crisis, by far the most frequent use is for tracking and surveillance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines public health surveillance as the ongoing, systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of health-related data essential to planning, implementation and evaluation of public health practice. The CDC identified seven goals for COVID-19 national surveillance, depicted below; however, with COVID-19 affecting not only public health but all aspects of our lives, the goals for COVID-19 tracking and surveillance go beyond those identified by the CDC.
Goals for COVID-19 National Surveillance
- To monitor spread and intensity of COVID-19 disease in the United States
- To understand disease severity and the spectrum of illness
- To understand risk factors for severe disease and transmission
- To monitor for changes in the virus that causes COVID-19
- To estimate disease burden
- To produce data for forecasting COVID-19 spread and impact
- To understand how COVID-19 impacts the capacity of the U.S. healthcare system (e.g., availability and shortages of key resources)
Source: The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/faq-surveillance.html
Understanding and Using COVID-19 Data
As healthcare facilities, local and state governments, schools, businesses and the general public begin considering how to safely resume operations, data is key to understanding where and how to do so in a manner that protects the public. COVID-19 data is being used to inform the public health response to COVID-19 at the national, state and county level. Healthcare facilities are using COVID-19 data to make decisions about where and how to shift healthcare resources to areas that have a high number of patients with underlying risk factors and where COVID-19 case incidence is building.
Local and state governments are using COVID-19 data to help decide where to set up enhanced testing access, provide telephonic outreach to assess patients self-quarantining at home and promote telehealth encounters. The data being collected during the pandemic is also being used to understand how COVID-19 affects social determinants of health in communities across the country and assess the consequences and levels of food insecurity, housing instability, social isolation and access to healthcare and health services.
COVID-19 data is also being used on a national, state and county-wide scale to inform school and business closures, public restrictions and mandates such as wearing a mask in public. Employers are using the data to determine when employees can safely return to the office, how they are going to operate – for instance operating at 50% physical capacity and 50% remote – and what safety measures and precautions should be considered and incorporated.
Whether you are part of a healthcare organization evaluating the need for additional testing sites, a small business owner looking to reopen your local store, a politician itching to get back on the campaign trail or a parent needing to send your children back to daycare as you return to work, the amount of public data available empowers us to make important decisions related to health, business and the economy so that we can safely resume some of our normal day-to-day activities. Since we do not know what the future holds, we must leverage a data-driven approach to safely plan for and move toward a post-pandemic world.
Contact us or tag Inovalon on social media and use #COVID19data to tell us what other goals exist for COVID-19 tracking and surveillance and how you are planning to use COVID-19 data.