178: Data Obstacles and Opportunities

Dr. David Rhew, Microsoft’s Global Chief Medical Officer, says there is technology available to help public health agencies standardize and modernize data; Mike Fraser, ASTHO CEO, notes the challenge is not with technology; Janet Hamilton, Executive...


Dr. David Rhew, Microsoft’s Global Chief Medical Officer, says there is technology available to help public health agencies standardize and modernize data; Mike Fraser, ASTHO CEO, notes the challenge is not with technology; Janet Hamilton, Executive Director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, says data modernization efforts must protect communities; Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, wants public health agencies to consider new solutions; Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky's Health Commissioner, tells us his state has made great progress building its health information exchange, but it wasn’t without challenges; and there's still time to access TechXpo content even though the event is over.

ASTHO Website: Public Health TechXpo

ASTHO News Release: Getting Ahead of the Next Pandemic, Leaders Convene to Identify Solutions to Transform U.S. Health Data

ASTHO logo

Transcript

ROBERT JOHNSON:

This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, May 13th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

 

Public health has a lot of data, but getting it to those who need it can sometimes be a challenge. ASTHO focused on the need to standardize and modernize public health data this week during its second Public Health TechXpo.

In one panel, some familiar voices weighed in on the task ahead. Dr. David Rhew is global chief medical officer for Microsoft.

DAVID RHEW:

We all agree standardization is so key in interoperability. Unfortunately, a lot of it is not standardized. It's going to come in as reports, it's going to come in as faxes. And so, until we get to that point, we need to start looking at tools such as natural language processing for texts to convert that into structured fields that are mapped to codify elements, which we can then combine with our existing datasets.

And so, I would say leverage the tools that we have today that are already being used for a variety of different purposes but need to be used for public health as well.

JOHNSON:

ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser agrees the problem is not with technology.

MICHAEL FRASER:

We have the standards we can use. I mean, I don't think there's—there's probably a lot more work to do there, but there is a base. When I start thinking about data modernization, you know, I start really thinking this is a leadership problem and a policy problem.

JOHNSON:

Janet Hamilton is executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. She's thinking about how to educate and protect communities.

JANET HAMILTON:

Probably everyone had an experience of getting tested during a drive-through clinic, and how many of them actually asked for race and ethnicity information? And I think we've seen an emergence of people saying, "I really want to see myself in this data and my, you know, my population isn't necessarily being well-described."

But the challenge then is how we really educate people as to when they put the information in and at what point so that it can make it to public health. And, of course, still doing identity protection and all of those kinds of things.

JOHNSON:

There will be concerns with any reform, but Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, says it's time to try something new

SCOTT BECKER:

When people say, "Oh, we've tried that"—well, this is a very different time. This is our moment. We have the spotlight. We have a chance to leverage the existing work that we've done, build on past successes—but do not stop there.

We have to keep going forward, working with industry, with academia, with other nonprofits that we haven't before, and then with other federal agencies. It is—DMI is not just CDC. We think it is right now because that's where the efforts are, but there are similar efforts underway at other agencies. And I think we have to think very broadly and differently than we have.

 

JOHNSON:

Kentucky has made great progress building its health information exchange, but it wasn't without trials. Health commissioner Dr. Steven Stack told a TechXpo panel on Wednesday that the process was hampered by not having enough trained people to help do the work. He's also worried that funding to build better data systems won't come with the dollars to keep them going.

STEVEN STACK:

This binge-purge kind of model doesn't really work. I mean, if you get all this money to do a build-out and then you have no money to maintain and sustain, it gets very, very difficult. So, I think we do need to determine what is a reasonable investment in this kind of technology and sustain it over time.

JOHNSON:

Stack also wants to see more collaboration at all levels as a hedge against the momentum that can be lost when turnover occurs in health department leadership ranks.

STACK:

To the extent we can work together across the three layers of government—local, state, and federal—and identify what our high yield data types and data systems to kind of integrate and work together. I think we'd be much more successful. But that won't happen unless we bring people together in ways and intentionally sustain it so that the effort continues.

And then, of course we need the money. And then, we'll have to just find where we can reach consensus enough to give up some of the customization we all like—or we all seem to like—in order to get the power of the standardization we could all benefit from if we do some things the same way.

JOHNSON:

Our coverage of the second ASTHO Public Health TechXpo continues next week.

The event ended Wednesday, but you can catch recordings of the discussions and panels by logging in from the Xpo homepage using the link in the show notes. If you didn't have time to register, you can do it now—that way you'll get access to everything covered at the conference.

 

That'll do it for today's newscast. We are back Monday morning with more coverage of this year's TechXpo.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great weekend.

Scott Becker

CEO, Association of Public Health Laboratories

Janet Hamilton MPH

Executive Director, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists

Steven Stack MD

Kentucky Commissioner for Public Health

David Rhew MD

Global Chief Medical Officer and VP of Healthcare, Microsoft