The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made national headlines this week when it announced a change in how states and hospitals will report critical data about the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of reporting data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Health Safety Network, states going forward will report data from hospitals directly to the “HHS Protect system” or a system called TeleTracking. (The HHS Protect system was established in April 2020 and up until now has combined data from multiple public and private systems, including the National Health Safety Network.) The news initially made waves as people have expressed concern that the change will limit the CDC’s and the public’s access of the data, which is critical as we continue to learn and adapt our response to the pandemic. Further, there was some initial confusion when data from the National Health Safety Network was temporarily removed from CDC’s website, only to be added back later with the disclaimer that it would not be updated.
When pressed for additional details about the transition away from the National Health Safety Network to the HHS Protect and TeleTracking systems, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and HHS officials said the change will help streamline reporting for states and hospitals and will allow HHS to rapidly update its collection system to gather other useful data when necessary. Dr. Redfield also publicly stated that the CDC will still be able to conduct all of the public analyses that the agency releases on a routine basis, including the much relied upon Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWRs). In Dr. Redfield’s words, “no one is taking access or data away from CDC…Approximately 1,000 CDC experts have and continue to have access to the raw data collected in HHS Protect—in addition to thousands of other public health professionals across HHS.”
Despite reassurances from Dr. Redfield, ACEP remains concerned about the impact of these changes and reports from members that their hospitals are having trouble reporting data and even accessing their own submitted data. We also feel it’s unwise to switch data collection systems in a middle of a pandemic and that the rationale HHS has used to justify the change is insufficient.
To help better understand the full implications of this policy change, ACEP met with the CDC on Thursday. According to CDC staff, some of the operational details of this change are still being worked out, but the CDC remains committed to serving the public with actionable and useful information. We plan to follow up with the CDC in the next few days and can provide any updates when available.
We strongly believe that HHS must continue to optimize the resources and expertise of the thousands of epidemiologists, scientists, physicians, and other experts who work at the nation’s public health agency- the CDC. ACEP will continue to closely monitor and update our members on the situation to ensure that HHS continues to make all COVID-19 data available to the public in ways that will help individuals, businesses, and state and local officials make informed decisions based up-to-date, accurate information.