The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Public Health Data, Surveillance and Technology is aiming to expand public health data sharing and nationwide health equity over the next two years.
The acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s first office exclusively dedicated to creating public health data strategies said her team is developing a strategic roadmap to promote interoperability and health equity over the next two years.
Jennifer Layden, acting director for the Office of Public Health Data, Surveillance and Technology, said the agency was taking the lessons it learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and embarking on a new mission that involved modernizing and improving nationwide access to public health data.
The pandemic gave the federal government special authorities to expand data sharing throughout the public health domain – an often complicated process involving patient protections, federal privacy restrictions and a decentralized public health system.
Although the authorities will expire when the U.S. plans to end national public health emergency orders on May 11, Layden said that the CDC was developing new partnerships with the goal of standardizing public health data and promoting increased interoperability over the next two years.
“We’ve been working really closely with [the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology] in how we could introduce standards or requirements for public health data systems to enable some consistency of interoperability,” she said on Thursday at AcademyHealth's Health Datapalooza Summit. “We’ve also been working with [The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] on ways that we can partner to help incentivize data sharing.”
The goal is part of an enterprise-wide effort at the CDC to improve outcomes and promote health equity at the local, state and federal levels. Research has shown that enhanced data interoperability can help improve public health equity and patient outcomes.
A data and surveillance workgroup at the CDC published a series of recommendations late last year around improving the public health data exchange that included defining the minimal data necessary for core public health services, establishing public health data systems standards and certification and establishing frameworks and agreements for the use of public health data.
It's a "big uphill battle," Layden admitted, but she added that additional resources and further training for the federal workforce can go a long way towards improving public health interoperability.
“When we take the lessons learned from the recent pandemic, we are looking at this holistically,” she said, “to ensure our systems, our processes, our policies, our workforce can be response ready and can meet the core missions of public health.”
A Government Accountability Office report published last year identified a series of challenges impeding data sharing during public health emergencies, from a lack of common standards and isolated data systems to a complex public health information technology infrastructure that makes information sharing even more difficult.
The report found that health officials across the country had to manually input data into numerous systems in the early stages of the pandemic due to the lack of IT system interoperability, and that state health departments were unable to directly exchange data with the CDC, potentially delaying decisions surrounding the federal response to COVID-19.