HHS Eyes Patient Data Automation

A Federal government effort to create fast and actionable intelligence from coronavirus pandemic health data derived from state, local, and other sources is looking toward next steps to evolve the program’s aims with the use of automated patient reporting technologies.

Nikki Bratcher-Bowman, who is principal deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response and chief operating officer for the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), talked about the potential of automated patient data reporting on Jan. 17 at AFCEA Bethesda’s Annual Health IT Event.

She spoke about the advantages of that approach in the context of HHS’ actions during the pandemic to create the HHS Protect platform in 2020. The platform provided a common operating picture and a central hub to collect, integrate, and share COVID-19 data in near-real time across Federal agencies and with state, local, territorial, and tribal partners.

The HHS Protect platform was put together in a matter of weeks in early 2020, with data contributed from – and then in turned used by – all 50 states and six U.S. territories, plus local health authorities and private sector sources. One of the platform’s key initial uses was to drive clinical trials based on the data identifying where COVID-19 outbreaks were popping up. The platform quickly amassed several billion data elements and became a mainstay of pandemic tracking for government on all levels.

HHS transitioned the platform to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2022.

Bratcher-Bowman said HHS is interested in a similar effort involving development of automated patient reporting technologies to boost the government’s ability to improve diagnosis and treatment.

Speaking on Jan. 17 about harnessing IT to better respond to the pandemic, Bratcher-Bowman talked about the value of HHS’ collaboration across agencies, governments, and the private sector, and how that effort driven by a “single-minded focus on COVID … unlocked collaboration that we’ve never seen before.”

The HHS ASPR function that she directs, Bratcher-Bowman said, has a broad group of healthcare problems to focus on. But central to its work in recent years has been combatting diseases like COVID-19, and “working across the healthcare system to gather data for real-time decision making.”

“Critical to that is the need for innovative IT solutions,” she said.

Looking forward from the COVID-19 focus, she said “we must also anticipate sustained and continued evolution and enhancements so that large data management efforts can be relevant for all hazards of the government that we need to address.”

“With that in mind on a clinical basis, we would like … to see support for the expanded use of health IT for safer clinical practices to prevent and address adverse events,” Bratcher-Bowman said, “by building automated patient safety and rapid reporting features into the health IT infrastructure.”

By using real-time data, “health IT has such potential to reduce diagnostic error” and to improve care through better use of precision medicine, and assist in improving diagnoses and treatments, she said.

“Using data to help with decision-making diagnosis and targeted treatment is becoming a reality by harnessing datasets across the country,” she said.