The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) today released a white paper making the case for a “public health data superhighway” to detect and respond to global health challenges. “Those of us who work in public health know the consequences of slow data sharing and antiquated data systems—delayed detection and response, and ultimately the loss of time and even lives,” said Jeffrey Engel, MD, executive director of CSTE. “Data is the cornerstone of public health surveillance, and this report highlights the urgent need to modernize our data systems to implement today’s technologies, better protecting the public’s health.”
Funded by the de Beaumont Foundation, the report says that despite the availability of new technologies to facilitate timely data exchange, public health departments struggle to take advantage of these advancements and continue to rely on sluggish, manual processes like paper records, phone calls, spreadsheets, and faxes requiring manual data entry.
To transform the nation’s public health surveillance capacity, the report calls for an evolution from manual data sharing methods and disease- or condition-specific silos toward a core public health data infrastructure—a “public health data superhighway”—that facilitates automatic, interoperable data exchange. It identifies five principles to transforming the nation’s surveillance system:
- An enterprise approach to data systems modernization with new federal funding to enable CDC and state, territorial, local, and tribal health departments to develop a core data exchange infrastructure. Funding must be sustained to maintain and upgrade the public health data superhighway.
- Interoperable data systems within public health, and between public health and health care to seamlessly exchange data on the public health data superhighway.
- Security to protect patient data by adopting policies, transparent privacy practices, and security measures to defend and prevent cyberattacks.
- A workforce that is prepared for the Information Age to build, implement, maintain, and use the data systems that comprise the public health data superhighway.
- Partnership and innovation with the public and private sectors to build and maintain the public health data superhighway and establish leading-edge public health data systems and processes.
“We can no longer afford to let public health threats outpace the limits of our public health surveillance system” the report says. “High-quality and timely data give us a blueprint to address public health threats, pinpoint action to protect the health of the nation, and are essential to solve the health problems our nation faces.”