- Hospitals have been instructed to immediately begin reporting their COVID-19 data to HHS instead of using a long-established program from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an abrupt move that sparked some calls of political interference by the White House with the public health agency.
- CDC Director Robert Redfield told reporters Wednesday that his agency will still have access to the data and argued the new system will reduce reporting burden on hospitals. "We have not changed the data ecosystem, we have merely streamlined the data collection mechanism for hospitals on the front lines," he said.
- The American Public Health Association and five other public health groups said the new process will likely worsen the pandemic response. "In the midst of the worst public health crisis in a century, it is counter-productive to create a new mechanism which will be extremely complicated to build and implement," the statement reads.
Hospitals have been reporting data to the CDC's National Healthcare Safety Network to help track healthcare-associated infections since 2005. The agency created a COVID-19 module in March to gather information on the number of patients with confirmed cases, hospital bed and ventilator availability and staffing.
The HHS program uses the third party TeleTracking, which was awarded a four-month $10.2 million non-competitive bid in April. Pittsburgh-based TeleTracking was founded in 1991 and has not received a federal contract before, according to a database that tracks government spending.
The American Hospital Association told members this week that HHS was asking hospitals to prioritize data on the previous day's suspected and confirmed COVID-19 admissions, adults in the ICU with suspected and confirmed cases, total hospitalizations with suspected and confirmed cases as well as remdesivir doses.
According to AHA, users of the TeleTracking portal received an email stating HHS will use the data to inform how it distributes remdesivir, the antiviral drug that has been shown to speed the recovery of people hospitalized with COVID-19.
The move from HHS garnered widespread criticism and concern over changing a system that hospitals have used for more than a decade in the middle of the still raging pandemic.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranking member of the Senate health committee, wrote to Redfield with additional concerns, asking what instructions have been given to hospitals and how the data will be used to inform decisions.
The public health coalition also noted the move was made without buy-in from local and regional governments.
"Another area of concern is that the planning for this new approach did not substantively involve officials at the local, state, tribal and/or territorial levels," the group wrote in a statement. "This is a time to support the public health system not take actions which may undermine its authority and critical role."
HHS CIO Jose Arrieta said Wednesday the CDC had been receiving data regularly from 3,000 hospitals, about half of the total number in the U.S. The new platform is collecting data from an additional 1,100 hospitals, he said.
Health officials agree that accurate and timely data on COVID-19 is key to manage outbreaks in the U.S., but a lack of uniform reporting and the nation's hobbled IT infrastructure have hamstrung those efforts.
More than four in 10 U.S. hospitals say the public health agencies they work with don't have the capability to receive data electronically, and those in regions hardest hit from the pandemic were most likely to report that inability, according to a May report from the American Medical Informatics Association.