180: Public Health Data Wishlist

Lena Sun, National Health Reporter at The Washington Post, joined a closing panel at last week’s ASTHO Public Health Tech Expo to offer her wishlist for public health data; Paula Tran, State Health Officer for the Wisconsin Department of Health...


Lena Sun, National Health Reporter at The Washington Post, joined a closing panel at last week’s ASTHO Public Health Tech Expo to offer her wishlist for public health data; Paula Tran, State Health Officer for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, says leaders need to think beyond data tech if they want to make progress; ASTHO's Public Health TechXpo may be over, but you can catch recordings of the discussions and panels by registering or logging in from the Expo home page.

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

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Transcript

ROBERT JOHNSON:

This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, May 17th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

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

 

Public health leaders aren't the only people looking for a better way to gather and interpret data. It turns out journalists are frustrated, too. Washington Post national health reporter Lena Sun joined a closing panel at last week's Public Health TechXpo.

LENA SUN:

The United States has been so far behind on this pandemic in terms of trying to figure out what the virus can do, how effective the vaccines are, because we don't have good data. You know, bad data in is bad data out. Obviously, we cannot compare ourselves to the UK and Israel where, you know, they have integrated health systems, but it is very troubling to always have to rely on data from those other countries—which have different populations in the United States—to determine, "Well, it's effective here because the data show in the UK or Israel X, Y, and Z." There's no random sampling here.

JOHNSON:

Sun outlined some examples of areas where she believes the data is lacking.

SUN:

We have only suppositions about the comorbidities and have not been able to do the detailed kind of work to pinpoint the people at greatest risk, and the non co-morbidity issues that we could uncover if we had that information.

and just at a very basic level—at the state level—there is no standardized definition of what counts as a case, what counts as a death. Some states report deaths by date of death, or by date of catching COVID. There's no standardized data reporting. And then, of course you have states that don't report data at all—Texas, Idaho, New Hampshire—and that makes it very difficult to sort of try to do any kind of comprehensive comparative national picture that's at the most basic level.

JOHNSON:

ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser moderated the panel, asking Sun to describe her ideal data future. Sun gave a wishlist.

SUN:

One, that everybody would have gotten rid of fax machines in five years.

MICHAEL FRASER:

Okay.

SUN:

Maybe that is too ambitious, but you know, you got to start small.

FRASER:

Right.

SUN:

Second, establish a basic national profile for electronic health records to which all vendors can send records. So, whatever shape their information is, there's a common data definition to which they can send data so national data can be assembled and analyzed in close to real time.

Third, put all that stuff away; that each health department have one person who can explain all of this without using any jargon and explain like, "Okay, if you don't fund public health, that means the nurse who does the water, checking for water, won't be able to go out and do outbreak investigations." You know, because you can do all this stuff and have wonderful wiz-bang and everything; but if you can't explain that or have that be communicated out to the American people in a understandable, interesting way, you're not going to get funded.

 

JOHNSON:

Data can have a big impact on health equity. Wisconsin state health officer Paula Tran says leaders need to think beyond data tech if they want to make progress.

PAULA TRAN:

If we only focus in on the systems and the technology and the platforms, we're really losing sight on what really is our responsibility—which is to take data as one input to help us understand the experiences of people today, to help us better understand how we can meet the needs to assure that they can be well and healthy by changing those conditions around them.

JOHNSON:

Tran told attendees at the TechXpo last week that public health needs to reconsider the information collected and how it's collected, and she says the work needs to begin immediately.

TRAN:

If we wait until our data systems are more equitable, that will be too late. And I'm pretty skeptical about our capacity to make sure our data systems will be more equitable without engagement.

So, you know, the opportunity is to start today—and not, you know, be regretful about what you didn't do 10 years ago—and start building those relationships and partnerships around the shared interests of communities and their agency partners, regardless of what kind of agency you have.

 

JOHNSON:

The TechXpo may be over, but you can catch recordings of the discussions by logging in from the Xpo homepage using the link in the show notes.

If you didn't have time to register, do it as soon as you can—that way you can watch everything that happened on demand.

 

That'll do it for today's newscast. We are back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

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

Paula Tran MPH

State Health Officer and Division of Public Health Administrator, Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Lena Sun MA

National Health Reporter, Washington Post