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Special Edition Magazine, Spring 2021: Back to Health: Making Up for Lost Time

The Public-Health Data Systems We Need

The COVID-19 crisis is far from over; in many countries, it is getting worse. By investing in digital technologies now and publishing anonymized data online, policymakers can strengthen their response to the ongoing pandemic, and act quickly when another public-health threat appears.

SEATTLE – When an infectious disease strikes, every day matters. The longer it takes to spot, investigate, and contain an outbreak, the more lives we may lose.

That is why we must prepare our public-health data systems for the next pandemic and revamp them to tackle the current one. COVID-19 is far from over; in many countries, it is getting worse. By investing in digital technologies now and publishing anonymized data online, policymakers can strengthen their response to the ongoing pandemic, and act quickly when another public-health threat appears.

An important first step toward more robust pandemic preparedness is reporting of hospitals’ admissions data to national health officials as patients arrive. An unusually large number of admissions, even in the absence of laboratory testing, could be the first warning sign of a deadly new threat. Reporting admissions data together with diagnoses, such as pneumonia, can enhance the value of this stream of daily data, and potentially enable public-health officials to nip the next pandemic in the bud.

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