How a Nationwide COVID-19 Surveillance System Can Help Contain the Outbreak

The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed critical breakdowns, flaws and interoperability issues in the U.S. healthcare system’s ability to collect and share patient data meaningfully during a public health emergency (PHE). Recovering from the current outbreak, preparation for future outbreaks and the changes in healthcare delivery emerging from the current outbreak will require significant and lasting repairs to fix these data breakdowns and avoid future failures. A recent thought-provoking report from the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University shows how data aggregation, curation and engagement will be essential in building a nationwide COVID-19 surveillance system to contain the outbreak.

Their plan calls for the development of a four-tiered surveillance system across the entire country. Each of those four tiers depends on the liquidity of healthcare data to make them work.

Key Essentials for a Nationwide COVID-19 Surveillance System:

  • To make the national COVID-19 test-and-trace system operational, we will need “routine, straightforward and secure electronic data sharing.”
  • To make data sharing effective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology should “encourage the adoption and widespread use of electronic standards and reporting to enable rapid electronic reporting of COVID-19 related laboratory test results from health care providers, laboratories, or other testing sources using existing automated electronic reporting infrastructures.”
  • To make the data being shared useful, the data collected should include the “presence of symptoms, date of symptom onset, and test platform (to help assess new testing platforms that have limited evidence on test sensitivity and specificity), in addition to usual laboratory result data fields such as patient demographics, geographic location, and test result.”
  • To make provider adoption of the same COVID-19 data elements through common electronic standards, the report recommends that the government link data sharing to provider payments.
  • To make these COVID-19 data elements actionable for epidemiologists and others for research purposes and to inform policy decisions, the data should flow into a common publicly available database.


Data aggregation. Data curation. Data engagement. These are the foundational capabilities in a robust national COVID-19 surveillance system needed to beat the pandemic. When things return to normal—or whatever the new normal is—imagine how powerful those same capabilities will be in helping your hospital, health system or medical practice improve its clinical, financial and operational performance.

For example, you’ll be able to standardize and simplify complex health data, protect the data in compliance with HIPAA and other requirements, allow appropriate third-party app developers to safely access fully de-identified data and accelerate innovation, store the data in a cloud-based platform and make useful data available to your clinical teams and patients in real time.

You’ll be able to apply cutting-edge analytic tools and massive processing power to find correlations, create knowledge, make predictions and generate new insights from the vast quantities of aggregated data. And you’ll be able to give insights formed from curating the aggregated data through user-friendly interfaces to healthcare professionals and consumers, who can then act on those insights in real time.

To learn more about how liberating healthcare data can benefit your organization, please read “Healthcare’s Age of Liquid Data: Extreme Interoperability Sparks Personalized, Real-Time, High-Value Services” on

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