On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services shared that all further hospital data on coronavirus patients will be sent directly to the Trump administration starting July 16. The information previously went through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first, reports CNN.
According to the report, this decision is being touted as faster and more convenient, but health experts worry that the move could make data — such as infection rates and trends — less transparent. By presenting all information to the Trump administration to filter through the public, experts say that we are running the risk of putting a political spin on coronavirus cases, particularly at a time when White House representatives are urging for reopenings and downplaying the death toll in America.
News of the change reportedly came as a shock to the CDC, who were told that the information as it is currently filtered is too slow to process. “Today, the CDC still has at least a week lag in reporting hospital data,” Health and Human Services spokesperson, Michael R. Caputo told the New York Times. “America requires it in real time. The new, faster and complete data system is what our nation needs to defeat the coronavirus, and the CDC, an operating division of HHS, will certainly participate in this streamlined all-of-government response. They simply no longer control it.”
The CDC currently collects coronavirus data through its system, the National Healthcare Safety Network, which tracks COVID-19 by having medical professionals register their facilities and report new cases, deaths, hospital capacity, and other pertinent information. At the outset of the pandemic, this program expanded to meet demands and track hospital capacity and COVID-19-specific patient information.
The new system, which reportedly will be used to collect the same information, is managed by health data firm, TeleTracking. Like the National Healthcare Safety Network, the TeleTracking system will rely on daily push data, meaning that hospital employees must manually enter the information. One caveat is that if hospitals are already in the habit of reporting information at a state level first, they could obtain a written release to continue that process, giving the state the responsibility of reporting on a federal level.
Though the systems are similar in purpose and practice, the concern lies in the lack of trust health experts and medical staff has in the Trump administration to make apolitical data available to the right people. In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Tuesday, four of the CDC’s former directors expressed concerns that the Trump administration will politicize data and continue to undermine health experts. Furthermore, information sent to the new database will not be open to the public which raises questions about how researchers, health officials, and reporters will be able to access data. Among several things that haven’t been made clear in this new system, is how the CDC will be involved and what its role will be in helping understand the data collected.
Outside of medical experts, people responded with similar concerns over health data’s new route through the Trump administration. Many echoed concerns of a lack of transparency calling it “horrifying.”
Nothing horrifying to see here. Just that Coronavirus hospital data will now be sent to Trump administration instead of CDC— Qasim Rashid for Congress (@QasimRashid) July 15, 2020
139K dead, 3.5M infected, still not enough tests—and now potential censorship on the actual extent of the devastation. Dystopian.https://t.co/eUPD3ItSdZ
“Centralizing control of all data under the umbrella of an inherently political apparatus is dangerous and breeds distrust,” Nicole Lurie, who served as assistant secretary for preparedness and response under Barack Obama, told the NYT. “It appears to cut off the ability of agencies like CDC to do its basic job.”
Dr. Thomas File, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America released a statement saying: “Placing medical data collection outside of the leadership of public health experts could severely weaken the quality and availability of data, add an additional burden to already overwhelmed hospitals and add a new challenge to the U.S. pandemic response.”
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