How HHS is innovating data aggregation and visualization to boost pop health

At Health 2.0, HHS Chief Data Officer Mona Siddiqui spotlighted recent efforts, including some cloud-based dynamic data and mapping tools, to link far-flung data for better public health.
By Mike Miliard
01:00 PM

HHS Chief Data Officer Mona Siddiqui speaks at Health 2.0

Speaking at the Health 2.0 Annual Conference in Santa Clara, California, this past week, Mona Siddiqui, chief data officer at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offered a progress report on some of the agencies population-focused data innovations across 50 states and five territories.

For example, she pointed to the HHS EmPOWER Program, which for the past six years has helped get mission critical data to the frontlines in "fractions in a second" for vulnerable populations in disasters such as Hurricane Dorian and the California wildfires.

A joint project of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, EmPOWER is designed to serve at-risk populations by ensuring continuity of care and services during emergencies and natural disasters such as Hurricane Dorian and the California wildfires.

"Its dynamic data and mapping tools help communities identify and protect the health of more than 4.1 million at-risk Medicare beneficiaries," said Siddiqui. During Dorian, "health departments in Florida and North Carolina used this data to rapidly identify and reach out to the electricity dependent populations."

HHS' Immunization Gateway, meanwhile, which was launched in 2013 to boost consumer access to immunization records and enable more informed patient decisions, has helped improve population health by breaking down silos and filling in critical missing pieces.

"Since many public health immunization information systems are structured by jurisdiction, records and others may contain enormous gaps," said Siddiqui. "To bridge that gap, more state exchange between immunization systems is needed to ensure that doctors are able to have complete access to the record."

She also touted the recent success of a collaborative tool to update mapping of drug disposal sites on Google Maps, inspired by a winning solution from the HHS Opioid Codeathon in 2017.

"It shows the power of sharing this data," said Siddiqui

"The scope and scale of data which HHS is the steward of is enormous," she said. "The efforts that are undertaken by frontline staff every day to ensure that the right information is getting connected to address a public health crisis or to try and anticipate an emerging public health threat are herculean. I think it's not overstating it to say that the examples I was sharing and countless others, connecting disparate information in these ways and deploying it, with partnerships with both public and private entities, is saving lives."

Siddiqui emphasized that the power and potential of data is only possible if the data can be translated into actionable information.

"Knowing the tremendous potential of connected data has fueled our efforts at HHS to make the department a more interoperable healthcare organization," she explained. "While I've highlighted some tremendous examples of how connected data can save lives, each of these individual programs has taken an enormous level of effort to build and to execute."

For the past few years, the sprawling agency – "CMS, FDA CDC, NIH, Indian Health Service and many others" – has embraced its mission of making as much health data available to as many stakeholders as possible.

"Knowing the power of open data and building on HHS' longstanding history of making data available for public use, we also began to see how is data being used from one agency to another."

It turns out, she said, that the "programs that grew up in silos continue to operate largely in those silos. The data that's produced is also maintained within those silos. Mapping out how to change this way of operating and how to create a foundation for an interoperable healthcare organization has required a holistic approach."

Technology, she added, "is not the solution to interoperability: The fundamental requirement is for business alignment. I think we all know that."

That realization is taking hold across healthcare, of course, as provider systems are "shifting how we think of data – from a primary reporting and research tool to a strategic business asset," said Siddiqui. "It requires as the first step not a technological solution but a change in organizational management and culture.

It's happening at HHS, too.

"I would say perhaps one of the most important components in which we are investing significant resources, is a data science training program for the department," she said. "Investing in our workforce and developing the internal capacity to use what we're building and to enable individuals to be change agents within their agencies is essential."

In a recent pilot program of the curriculum, by way of example, "for 30 spaces we had more than 500 HHS employees applying," she added. "Which again tells you the demand for this, in all of our workforce."

Meanwhile, HHS is building technology stacks that enable "safe and secure data sharing, code sharing, data use agreement management and workflow management," said Siddiqui. "We have been taking a truly agile approach. It would actually be very easy to purchase a multimillion dollar solution and declare a quick win. But that solution likely would not be used by anyone and it would certainly not lead to culture change in how data is used or shared."

It's all part of a "long term investment – but one that I think can continue to yield returns," she said. "Not only in program efficiency and effectiveness, but in saving lives and ultimately creating a healthier country."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.