Congress Told HHS to Set Up a Health Data Network in 2006. The Agency Still Hasn’t.

by | Feb 9, 2023 | Health

In early 2020, as they tried to fight covid-19 across two rural counties in North Carolina, the staff of Granville Vance Public Health was stymied, relying on outdated technology to track a fast-moving pandemic.

Lisa Macon Harrison, the agency’s health director, said her nurses’ contact-tracing process required manually entering case information into five data systems. One was decades old and complicated. Another was made of Excel spreadsheets. None worked well together or with systems at other levels of government.

“We were using a lot of resources putting an inordinate amount of data into multiple systems that weren’t necessarily scaled to talk to each other or to the federal level,” Harrison said.

That poor interface between systems meant staff often lacked insight into what was happening elsewhere in the state and beyond. The staffers relied on “watching the news shows every morning to get the latest and greatest updates from other levels of government,” Harrison said.

The pandemic, which has killed more than 1 million Americans, highlighted ineffective data infrastructure across the U.S. health system, in a country that’s home to some of the world’s most influential technology companies: Coronavirus case reports sent by fax machine. Clunky tech for monitoring vaccine distribution — and major gaps in tracking who got jabbed. State-level data out of sync with federal figures. Supply chain breakdowns that left health care providers without needed protective equipment.

And Co …

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