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Fixing Our Public-Health Data Problem

Easily accessible, accurate health data is necessary to understand clinical information in real time, prevent medical errors, and make public-health decisions before, during, and after times of crisis. But as COVID-19 and monkeypox have shown, the US and others are falling far short of this standard.

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, CT – With COVID-19 still an ever-present threat and monkeypox cases rising alongside existing chronic health epidemics, building strong, responsive public health systems has never been more important. But it will require developing effective data management, pursuing sustained investment and training, and building trust through clear communication and community engagement. Here, I want to focus on the data problem.

Standardized, comprehensive health data is at the heart of any public-health system, whether the task is conducting infectious-disease surveillance or understanding why some diseases affect certain populations more than others. Easily accessible, accurate health data is necessary to understand clinical information in real time, prevent medical errors, and make decisions about public-health measures before, during, and after times of crisis.

Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly been hampered by the slow and inconsistent reporting of critical public-health data. In the absence of universal standards, many public-health systems and practitioners rely on outmoded forms of communication such as paper and fax, which do not allow for rapid sharing. More than two years into the pandemic, we still cannot easily draw on the latest data to answer basic questions, such as what COVID-19’s mortality rate is according to patient variables.

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