More than 100 industry groups ask Trump to reverse HHS data reporting requirement

The public health, research, medical, science and legal organizations all voiced concerns about data availability and transparency under the new process, which instructs hospitals to bypass the CDC and report directly to HHS.
By Kat Jercich
04:31 PM

The letter was addressed to Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Deborah Birx and HHS Secretary Alex Azar. (Alex Wong, Getty)

More than 100 public health, research, medical, science and legal organizations signed a letter Friday asking the Trump administration to reverse a new policy directing hospitals to report COVID-19 patient data to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS claimed in a press call on Wednesday that the new requirement was put in place with the support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

But experts voiced concerns that the controversial new practice represented a sidelining of public health policy in favor of politics.

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"The administration’s abrupt decision to establish a new data collection procedure that bypasses the CDC as a recipient of data on patients hospitalized with COVID19 is alarming and will undermine efforts to control the pandemic at a time when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging across the country," wrote the stakeholders in Friday's letter.

WHY IT MATTERS

Letter signers urged COVID-19 task force leaders Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, along with HHS Secretary Alex Azar, to keep coronavirus patient data transparent and widely available.

"COVID-19 data collection and reporting must be done in a transparent manner and must not be politicized, as these data are essential to informing an effective response to the pandemic and to establishing public trust in the response," the letter read.

"Data transparency is particularly critical in the midst of an unprecedented national health crisis that is disproportionately impacting certain segments of the U.S. population, including Black/African American, Latinx and Native American communities," the letter continued. 

HHS on Wednesday could not offer a firm timeline for when hospitalization data would become available to the public, though it maintained that the CDC would continue to have access to the information. Last week, a widely used CDC dashboard briefly disappeared from the agency's website, only to reappear a day and a half later.

The letter signers, which include the American Medical Informatics Association, the American Public Health Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and its HIV Medicine Association, among dozens of others, also asked the administration to invest in CDC data reporting and to acknowledge the critical need for data at the state and local level.

"Creating duplicate, siloed data reporting systems may make it harder for jurisdictions to get an accurate picture of the pandemic and limit visibility across neighboring states and localities," read the letter.

THE LARGER TREND

The publicization of the administration's new reporting requirements for hospitals triggered a flurry of responses across the industry. In a special bulletin, the American Hospital Association told its members to report the information to HHS as requested.

"The agency notes it will no longer ask for one-time requests for data to aid in the distribution of remdesivir or any other treatments or supplies. This means that the daily reporting is the only mechanism used for the distribution calculations," said the AHA.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of sharing data, the need for tracking of resources and patient numbers has continuously conflicted with technological capacity. It remains to be seen how smoothly hospitals will switch over to the new reporting system, with its additional required questions.

ON THE RECORD

"Reliable, comprehensive and timely data are essential to monitor and evaluate the state of the pandemic and to inform an effective response, including the distribution of essential supplies and treatment," wrote the stakeholders.

"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.," they 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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