U.S. Digital Response Builds on Learnings with New Health Data Initiative

For six months, U.S. Digital Response (USDR) has partnered with governments across the country to address the various public health challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The common denominator across these engagements and the key to overcoming these challenges is the smart use of data.

As we look forward to the next six months, USDR is announcing a dedicated Health Data Program with support from The Rockefeller Foundation. Through this program, USDR will work to develop scalable solutions to support governments’ use of data in the response to COVID-19. Beginning October 6, USDR is recruiting a Product Manager-in-Residence to lead the program. Learn more about the role and apply here.

Data is Our Primary Protection

As government leaders and public health officials continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, our primary protection is the collection, analysis, and use of data. The unprecedented scale of the pandemic is overwhelming the already weak data capacity of governments across the U.S, yet public health officials, policymakers, businesses and concerned citizens are desperately seeking this high quality, accurate, and timely information to help guide their decisions.

Though time is of the essence, this is a great opportunity to improve data infrastructure, which will, in the immediate, help governments manage and scale their testing and tracing programs, reduce test positivity rates and prevent reemergence. Long-term, these improvements could mean the difference between rapid response and faltering systems.

What We’ve Learned (So Far)

Since mid-March, USDR has provided several state and local government agencies with free, fast, high-quality support to leverage data to help drive decision making. USDR’s volunteer teams have built dashboards to help cities better distribute PPE, improved data pipelines for accurate and timely decision-making, and produced analyses to predict the impact of statewide interventions. Through these experiences and engagements, we’ve worked with public officials to not only address their current needs, but also to uncover the long-term learnings that can serve as guidance as they continue to manage the crisis and plan for the future.

Here are some of our key learnings around the importance of health data in response to the COVID pandemic.

Accurate, up-to-date dashboards are table stakes for decision-making in a crisis. Executive decision-makers, agency heads, and operational response teams are using situational dashboards to decide where to deploy their resources. In Maine, the Health and Human Services Department is collecting massive amounts of data on state-wide programs and their utilization. But, when the agency struggled with data ingestion from various departments, data automation, and analytics, USDR helped improve the data pipeline to ensure data was up to date, accurate, and usable. The high quality, automated data is now used to inform decision making, improve agency performance, and now powers the agency’s COVID-19 Impact Dashboard.

Investing in reliable data collection early enables rapid decision-making later. Information is great to have on hand, especially in crisis, but if you’re spending too much time collecting and aggregating it rather than acting on it and making decisions, then it impedes progress rather than promoting it. In New York City, public officials, frontline workers, and first responders needed to know where to provide and acquire essential PPE, but disparate data sources from various public agencies made it difficult to digest information and make quick, actionable decisions. USDR helped identify and aggregate data sources from multiple agencies into a consolidated view to allow New York City’s leaders to more effectively use the data, ultimately driving smarter decision-making as they work to satisfy time-sensitive demand and get resources and information to the frontline workers who need it most.

Impactful, sustainable and scalable solutions don’t require complex systems, lengthy timelines or expensive processes. In many cases, data sources for effective response already exist; the challenge is finding them and scaling them in a way that is most effective and resilient. USDR partnered with the City of Seattle and Montgomery County, Penn., to rapidly vet and choose online scheduling software to allow the public to sign up for COVID-19 tests in advance. These online portals allowed both locations to collect necessary billing and contact information up-front to facilitate efficient testing (Seattle has tested 88,000 people using the platform we vetted) and enable contact tracers to communicate with individuals for whom COVID-19 was detected.

Existing data and multi-use technologies can be adapted to solve what seem like different problems. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, healthcare systems faced extreme staffing shortages at a time when they most needed support. Meanwhile, people who were eager, available, and able to help were having trouble finding opportunities and places where their help was wanted. USDR volunteers helped the Louisiana Department of Health launch Louisiana Health Work Connect, which aggregates and shares data between user groups to help facilities with acute healthcare staffing shortages fill vacancies with qualified, out-of-work candidates. The program was built using insights from a system designed for volunteer matching, enabling the pilot to launch in a matter of weeks.

We’ve learned that the challenges being faced by public officials are persistent and that we can tackle them more fully with greater support. Thanks to the generous support of The Rockefeller Foundation, USDR is positioned to address these challenges and continue to seek deeper insights to assist governments moving forward.

As part of USDR’s commitment to working in the open, the new health data team will publicly share learnings, documentation, and source code on the USDR GitHub repository, and other non-sensitive project outputs throughout the program. Our goal is to encourage learning across governments and sectors to advance data practices and health outcomes.

Those interested in learning more about USDR’s health data program and applying for the Product Manager-in-Residence position can visit https://www.usdigitalresponse.org/health-data-pm-in-residence/.

If you are a government seeking assistance with data aggregation and COVID response efforts, please connect with our team by filling out this brief intake form.

U.S. Digital Response

U.S. Digital Response

U.S. Digital Response (USDR) places experienced, pro-bono technologists to work with government and organizations responding to crisis, to quickly deliver services and infrastructure that support the critical needs of the public. We’re nonpartisan, fast, and free.

U.S. Digital Response

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Connecting governments and nonprofits with pro bono technologists and assistance to quickly respond to the critical needs of the public.

U.S. Digital Response

U.S. Digital Response (USDR) places experienced, pro-bono technologists to work with government and organizations responding to crisis, to quickly deliver services and infrastructure that support the critical needs of the public. We’re nonpartisan, fast, and free.