A new report in Science suggests that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 patient data tracking system, HHS Protect, shows inconsistency with other sources that could lead to problems with resource allocation.
According to a data analysis obtained by Science from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS Protect figures differ from 30 states’ public health data by more than 20%. HHS Protect’s inpatient data was also “erratic” in the past two months for 21 states.
“The HHS Protect data are poor quality, inconsistent with state reports, and the analysis is slipshod,” one CDC source told Science.
WHY IT MATTERS
The HHS Protect tracking system has been dogged by controversy since its seemingly sudden launch this summer, with some hospital systems given two days’ notice to switch over their reporting.
Since then, HHS has maintained that HHS Protect is an improvement on the previous tracking system, the National Healthcare Safety Network, and that the new system is necessary to determine resource allocation.
Former HHS CTO Ed Simcox, who left the agency in February, told Healthcare IT News that NHSN was not “purpose-built” for the pandemic and that led to information gaps.
The reporting in Science suggests, however, that HHS Protect data often diverges dramatically from data collected by other sources, such as the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and state public health agencies.
A CDC analysis found that 14 states have COVID-19 inpatient tallies that are consistently lower than HHS Protect’s, while 27 state tallies are alternately higher and lower than HHS Protect’s. This seems to contradict HHS’ claim to Science that state numbers will “always be lower” because hospitals face no penalty for not reporting to the state.
Meanwhile, ASPR data about ICU bed availability in state hospitals has been shown to differ significantly from HHS Protect’s, sometimes by more than 300 beds.
THE LARGER TREND
Many users have raised concerns of accuracy around HHS Protect, with some flagging closed hospitals being listed as “non-reporting” and others saying that they’ve noticed discrepancies between the information being reported to the government and published data.
This is particularly concerning, say hospital associations, given what’s at stake: U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma announced in October that hospitals deemed non-compliant with reporting requirements could result in termination for Medicare and Medicaid.
“Until there is a sound and reliable data reporting system in place, it is reckless to hold hostage the contracts between CMS and hospitals,” said Katy Peterson, vice president of communications and member engagement for the Montana Hospital Association, to Healthcare IT News in October.
ON THE RECORD
“I wish that the rules would have been implemented for 21st Century Cures about two years ago,” said Simcox earlier this month. “Because I believe that, if that would have been the case and software providers would have actuated the regulations in their software (which they’re busy doing now), we would be in a much different position as a nation in controlling this.”
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