Dr. Joseph Colorafi: How CommonSpirit built a COVID-19 predictive model and what it will be used for next

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Over the past few months, Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health has used deidentified cellphone, public health and health system data to forecast COVID-19 surge trends nationwide. 

The 137-hospital health system's predictive modeling tools consider the COVID-19 infection rates and cell phone data to track how people travel outside of their communities as well as fixed data points, such as population and healthcare provider availability, to predict where the number of COVID-19 cases is likely to increase and decide where to allocate resources. The model generates outlook for about 75 percent of CommonSpirit's markets.

The health system had the infrastructure and statistical staff in place to do the modeling ahead of the pandemic. Joseph Colorafi, MD, system vice president of clinical data science for CommonSpirit, said his team aims to conduct long-term and short-term forecasting based on organizational needs, which takes a different skillset than typical healthcare reporting. The health system uses publicly available information with its internal protected information about patients to examine admissions and project where they would be short to allocate supplies appropriately.

"The more advanced we are on the analytics side for both short- and long-term forecasting, the more we can see where hospitals are filling up and project whether that will continue and when it will peak," he said. "For the long-term forecasting, we can predict a few months out, which is helpful in some areas more than others. There are some areas that we have broken out of long-term forecasting, such as Arizona. We predicted a summer surge, but not as high as it has been. So we have to look at the short-term forecast."

When long-term data is no longer validated, the health system can still use the short-term tools to gauge regional surge and manage one to two weeks out instead a month or more in advance. Being a national organization, CommonSpirit can send staff and supplies from low-need areas to high-need areas to meet demand.

"Our immediate goal is to take care of our patients and clinical staff, and provide a safe environment for our patients, especially in areas where cases are now accelerating," said Dr. Colorafi. "What we have been working on, and will continue to work on as time permits, is looking at what this winter would look like when the pressures are even higher."

Right now, pneumonia isn't as much of a threat, but if the number of COVID-19 cases hasn't flattened by the winter months, hospitals could experience additional ICU capacity issues with an added volume of pneumonia patients. "ICU beds are a critical resource that often gets filled up first," said Dr. Colorafi. "We have to use our modeling and plan for the winter so we're ready at the facility level."


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