COVID-19 'exposed the boulders underneath the water': ONC chief creates task force to tackle public health data issues 

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The federal government is exploring ways to overhaul its health data reporting systems under a new task force convened by HHS' National Coordinator for Health IT Micky Tripathi, PhD, Politico reported July 21. 

"The pandemic exposed the boulders underneath the water," Dr. Tripathi told Politico. "We can now understand where to invest." 

At the start of the pandemic last year, the federal government planned to have labs reporting COVID-19 test results using just two codes; instead, some hospitals received 200 codes, according to the report. The fallout from human coding errors required big investments in staff and time to fix, with some states even requiring the National Guard to come in and manually enter data. 

Dr. Tripathi's task force will focus on making recommendations to fix these outdated tech systems, including the reliance on fax machines to share data among hospitals, labs and other healthcare providers. One idea the task force already is considering is having the federal government and states share computing infrastructure, which would let public health departments more easily share data and new software programs. 

The task force will build on modernization efforts that began before the COVID-19 pandemic when Congress first allocated money for updating public health technologies in 2019. A House health spending bill for fiscal year 2022 soon heading to the floor contains as much as $100 million more in health tech dollars to support the modernization efforts, according to the report.

 

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