“Centralizing control of all data under the umbrella of an inherently political apparatus is dangerous and breeds mistrust,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, who was assistant secretary for preparation and response under former President Barack Obama. “It seems to be preventing agencies like the CDC from doing their basic work.”
The change was born out of a tense conference call several weeks ago between hospital leaders and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator. After Dr. Birx said hospitals were not reporting their data correctly, she assembled a working group made up of government and hospital representatives who designed the new plan, according to Dr. Janis Orlowski, head of health care. from the Association of American Medical Colleges, which participated in group meetings.
While she said she understood Dr. Lurie’s concern, Dr. Orlowski said the administration had engaged in “verbal discussion” to make the data public – or at least to allow hospitals to to access.
“We are comfortable with this as long as they continue to work with us, as long as they continue to make the information public, and as long as we are able to continue to advise and review the data,” a she said, calling the switch “a sincere effort to streamline and improve data collection”.
The change reveals vast gaps in the government’s ability to collect and manage health data – an outdated system at best, experts say. The CDC collects data on coronaviruses through its National Healthcare Safety Network, which was expanded at the start of the pandemic to track hospital capacity and patient information specific to Covid-19.
In its new guidelines, Health and Human Services said that in the future, hospitals should communicate detailed information daily directly to the new centralized system, which is managed by TeleTracking, a health data company headquartered in Pittsburgh. However, if hospitals already communicated such information to their states, they could continue to do so if they received a written statement that the state would take over the reporting.
Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the best Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, has raised questions about the TeleTracking contract, calling it “a non-competitive multi-million dollar contract” for a “duplicative health data system” .