HHS unveils Coronavirus Data Hub, but accuracy is still in question

A Missouri Hospital Association representative says that closed hospitals are listed as not reporting COVID-19 patient data for that state, potentially skewing totals.
By Kat Jercich
02:46 PM

[Updated: This story has been updated to add input from an HHS spokesperson on the error in the system.]

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday revealed a new Coronavirus Data Hub to display COVID-19 patient data.

The Trump administration has faced a flurry of concerns, including with regard to data transparency, from stakeholders and members of the public following its directive to hospitals last week to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when reporting patient data.

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“We’re showing you a data set that is more robust and has more coverage than anything we have published, historically, before,” said HHS Chief Information Officer Jose Arrieta on Monday, as reported by CNBC.

“Data is the single most important thing in being able to respond and we want to create a national discussion around the importance of data sharing in responding to a pandemic like COVID-19," Arrieta continued.

Arrieta added that accessing some data sets requires an authentication process. Currently, members of the public can see the percentage of hospitals reporting their data, the number of inpatient beds in each state, the percentage of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and the percentage of ICU beds occupied by any patients. Members of the public cannot currently see what percentage of ICU beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients specifically. 

WHY IT MATTERS

Some hospital associations expressed concerns that the public-facing data that is available is not accurate. 

Dave Dillon, vice president of public and media relations at the Missouri Hospital Association, says the HHS Protect system, used to present the data publicly, is listing closed hospitals as being without reports – meaning, for example, that the 82% hospital-reporting statistic currently displayed for that state is lower than he believes it should be.

"When we looked back at the data they were promoting, it included hospitals that had closed in Missouri," Dillon said. "We're going to have to request they remove hospitals they're listing as 'not reporting' that aren't in operation."

The list of specific hospitals reporting, or not reporting, data has not been made available to the public. 

An HHS spokesperson said that when the agency published the data, it was hoping to spark a national conversation on the importance of data sharing to identify such errors. The agency encourages states to report such problems so HHS and the state can work together to resolve them. 

Regarding whether the error would make hospital-bed-capacity data inaccurate, Dillon said he was unsure. "In general, we’ve been using hospitals that are actively reporting to generate the statewide bed capacity," Dillon said. "However, if they are using closed hospitals and licensed bed data, it’s possible."

Other associations say it's important to note that the total facilities number listed on the hub includes federal hospitals, like Veterans Affairs hospitals and psychiatric hospitals, and not just acute-care hospitals.

"While HHS indicates that 75% of Michigan hospitals are currently reporting into the HHS TeleTracking portal, our records indicate 95% of Michigan acute care community hospitals are already submitting data," said Jim Lee, vice president of data policy and analytics at the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

Similarly, the HHS hub lists 55 total facilities in New Mexico. New Mexico Hospital Association president and CEO Jeff Dye said the state has 47 acute-care hospitals, but that the difference in numbers may stem from federal hospitals being included.

THE LARGER TREND

Questions have swirled since last week about the potential politicization of COVID-19 data if it's warehoused under HHS rather than the CDC. 

A group of more than 100 stakeholders signed a letter on Friday to Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, along with HHS Secretary Alex Azar, to reverse the policy directing hospitals to bypass the CDC. 

"We urge you not to advance the new data collection plan any further and instead consult with the public health and healthcare communities to discuss effective strategies for ensuring the availability of the data we all need and want to bring the pandemic under control in the U.S.," wrote the groups.

HHS claimed in a press call on Wednesday that the new requirement was put in place with the support of the CDC.

"During the pandemic it became clear that we needed a central way to make data visible to first responders," said Arrieta during HHS' Wednesday press call. "The reason we established the ecosystem is so the folks that work for Dr. Redfield ... can log into one system and get access to four billion data elements."

ON THE RECORD

"The whole-of-America response to the COVID-19 pandemic demands data sharing in near-real time. At HHS, four principles drive this work: transparency, sharing, privacy, and security," read the Coronavirus Data Hub website. 

"This site augments HHS open data on COVID-19 … with non-government datasets from academia, non-profit organizations, industry and hospital facilities reporting from all 50 states," the site continued.

Actionable Intelligence

This month, we look at lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic on how data is put to work informing patient care decisions and population health.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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