Carper, Cassidy Lead Bipartisan Letter Calling on CDC, HHS to Improve and Modernize COVID-19 Data Collection and Management

To better protect communities, lawmakers urge health agencies to utilize more technologically advanced systems to increase accuracy and efficiency in tracking coronavirus infections and potential infectious disease outbreaks 

WASHINGTON, DC – As communities across the country grapple with how to reopen as safely as possible, Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) led a bipartisan group of senators in calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to improve, automate and modernize COVID-19 data collection and management. In a letter sent to Secretary Azar and Dr. Redfield, the lawmakers specifically called on the agencies to harness technologically advanced systems and build on existing data sources in order to provide public health officials and community leaders with more accurate, real-time information as they make critical decisions about reopening.

Unfortunately, recent reports have shown that case reporting and contact tracing across the country are being hampered by a fragmented health system and antiquated technology, including manual entry of patients’ data and results and sharing of such results through paper and pencil or fax. In Texas, some patients were having to wait l0 days to find out if they had been infected with coronavirus because their results were being faxed to public health officials and then entered into a database by hand. 

In their letter, the lawmakers wrote, “During an emergency such as the current pandemic, scaling up and using existing systems to the greatest extent possible can improve data collection and contact tracing efforts. We therefore ask that you and your colleagues utilize and build on existing data sources, such as electronic health record (EHR) and laboratory information management systems (LIMS), claims databases, and other automated systems to provide government leaders, public health officials, community leaders, and others with actionable, easy-to-interpret data from a wide-ranging set of sources. Data generated by contact tracing, syndromic surveillance, and large-scale testing can help inform decisions on how to safely reopen communities and bring economies back online. Modernizing and automating data collection should augment detection, testing, and contact tracing plans, while also helping to prevent and improve the management of new outbreaks.”

The bipartisan group highlighted the fact that some of these tools are already being successfully utilized in communities across the country. They noted, “Fortunately, software-based systems providing data management for state public health entities and major testing laboratories already exist, and they are more efficient and accurate while reducing the burden of excess paperwork. For example, North Carolina and Florida have taken steps to modernize and improve patients’ Covid-19 test results and other infectious disease symptoms. In Florida, nurses can register patients for Covid testing in the field using tablet computers that are connected to a HIPAA compliant cloud. By managing the patient and order requisition information electronically, lab processing time is reduced and transcription errors are eliminated.”

In April, Senators Carper and Cassidy, M.D. led a bipartisan letter to the CDC and HHS urging the agencies to build on existing reportable disease frameworks in order to better track coronavirus infections and improve contact tracing. By doing so, the health agencies could determine and log who has developed antibodies to the coronavirus and who may be immune.

Joining Senators Carper and Cassidy in sending this letter are Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).

The letter is available here