State and local health departments are relying on faxes, email, and spreadsheets to gather infectious disease data during the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reports. Low budgets and reliance on methods like Google searches are slowing health officials’ ability to trace people who were potentially exposed to the virus.
Some states, like New York and Colorado have online dashboards with real-time data and analysis. But some U.S. hospitals don’t report all the data on coronavirus cases, because it requires taking the information from electronic records and faxing or emailing them, Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo told the AP. “We are woefully behind,” the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) official Anne Schuchat wrote in a recent report.
Public health workers have to use social media, phone books, and other health databases to try and find potential cases when electronic records are incomplete. Part of the problem seems to be a stressed workforce, who are simply too busy to fill out all the requisite information.
To try to fix the problem, the Trump Administration enlisted Palantir to build out a data collection platform called HHS Protect. The company’s founder, Peter Thiel, is a major donor of President Donald Trump.
In March, Vice President Mike Pence sent a letter requesting 4,700 hospitals report test results, patient numbers, and capacities in spreadsheets. The hospitals were supposed to email the information to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would input it into the Palantir system. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar increased the information hospitals needed to report in April. Creating more spreadsheets with detailed information “is just not sustainable,” Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, told the AP.
The CDC is considering using some of the $500 million from the recent pandemic relief package on updating healthcare technology systems.