COVID-19 and the Need for a National Health Information Technology Infrastructure

The need for timely, accurate, and reliable data about the health of the US population has never been greater. Critical questions include the following: (1) how many individuals test positive for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and how many are affected by the disease it causes—novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in a given geographic area; (2) what are the age and race of these individuals; (3) how many people sought care at a health care facility; (4) how many were hospitalized; (5) within individual hospitals, how many patients required intensive care, received ventilator support, or died; and (6) what was the length of stay in the hospital and in the intensive care unit for patients who survived and for those who died.

In an attempt to answer some of these questions, on March 29, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence requested all hospitals to email key COVID-19 testing data to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The National Healthcare Safety Network, an infection-tracking system of the CDC, was tasked with coordinating additional data collection through a new web-based COVID-19 module. Because reporting is optional and partial reporting is allowed, it is unclear how many elements of the requested information are actually being collected and how they will be used.

Although the US is one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world and one that spends the most money on health care, this approach illustrates the need for more effective solutions for gathering COVID-19 data at a national level.

Citation: Sittig DF, Singh H. COVID-19 and the Need for a National Health Information Technology Infrastructure. JAMA. 2020;323(23):2373–2374.

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