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This interview with Theresa Do, Manager of Federal Health Advisory and Epidemiologist at SAS, discusses some of the challenges COVID has revealed related to data, cloud, and communication between Federal and local agencies, and why the conversations and lessons learned need to be happening now.

Cloud

The COVID pandemic illustrated the need to move to the cloud for a variety of reasons. This included the challenge for agencies that were not yet cloud ready as they had to adjust with people working at home, and the urgent need for the data they were collecting to be available to researchers for analysis. Public health crises like this require an active, rather than a passive understanding of what is happening. That cannot be achieved with data stored on PCs, whether they are within an agency’s walls or elsewhere.

Of course, that shift to cloud must come with shared understanding of and equal cybersecurity measures across agencies, including validation to ensure who is accessing and why corresponds with agreed upon knowledge; that the validation criteria required are understood and agreed upon; and that access to things like downloading is controlled.

Agnostic and Comprehensive Data

We saw with COVID the science changing regularly and quickly as new symptoms were uncovered, and with the most recent variation of the disease. In order to truly understand what is happening, we need data that speaks a common language, or that has the ability to be interpreted through artificial intelligence or machine learning to be translatable.

There is the need then as well to have SMEs in place who understand the data and can ensure the data that is available is correct for the algorithms to be run.

Anticipating Evolving Science

With VA and MHS moving to a shared system, they are working to achieve that shared and universal electronic health record language. As mentioned earlier, the science around COVID changed dramatically from our initial understanding to the evolving list of symptoms we now see. Beyond the universal language, there must be a universal approach to gathering information so that there is an ability to turn back, to take on a medical review of past clinical records to look for potential misclassification and better understanding of the disease and its spread.

Understanding the National View

Part of the challenge with COVID, and potentially with future public health emergencies, has been the messaging the public has been receiving, with different understanding based on state and local directives. The challenge of that common response is one that needs to be streamlined and delivered early and often to avoid misunderstanding.

There also needs to be clear communication between Federal agencies and states with respect to response and capabilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saw its labs overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of tests required and had to turn to private and other labs to manage the load.

Different local budgets and available skillsets saw some communities overwhelmed trying to meet the need for testing treatment. Communities may now be overwhelmed with respect to rolling out vaccinations. Having a comprehensive understanding of where states, communities and Federal agencies are with respect to capacity, perhaps having standby systems that can be deployed or medical reserve cores trained and at the ready, and being able to use SME analytics to redirect resources and support where it is most needed is all part of a collective and more efficient response.

That kind of overall view will be critical as vaccination roll-out is taking place as well. Do we have the transportation systems in place, the staff to administer the vaccine? Will Government need to turn to private entities to support dispersing the vaccine and how will those partners be identified? How and where do communities leverage an open lot of the vaccine if the anticipated audience is not ready to avoid waste? How do we effectively and accurately track drug interactions, adverse events, and validate the effectiveness of the vaccine to build public trust?

Advice to Government

We have seen a great uptick in short term contracts, in contracts awarded citing COVID urgency. These have been necessary to ensure work continues, that new emergent efforts move forward quickly and as needed.

It is worth considering, as we move ahead, a more analytics based view of contracts, of due diligence to ensure the right contractor is in the right space. Looking at the details of the contract, at past performance, at work in other spaces, technologies such as natural language processing can provide the contracting officer a different view on best matches based on more accurate intel.

Advice to Industry

This pandemic has been a wake-up call for everyone and now is the time to have the discussions around lessons learned. Now is the time to ensure our Government partners are thinking about their emergency supply and the locations of those supplies, thining of things like cloud access, and agnostic data that will communicate more accurately with other available data.

Now is the time for industry and Government to ensure they have forged partnerships with states, with private sources that may be able to augment systems and skillsets in times of need.

Now is the time for creative interaction and ongoing communication to ensure lessons learned are not lessons forgotten.

About Theresa Do

Theresa Do is an infectious disease epidemiologist with over 10 years of experience working across Health clients at the Commercial, Federal and State and Local levels. At SAS, Ms. Do leads the Federal Health Customer Advisory Team providing analytical consultation of the intersection of health, technology and analytics across the health space.

About SAS 

SAS is the leader in analytics. Through innovative software and services, SAS empowers and inspires customers around the world to transform data into intelligence. SAS was recently awarded a new BPA that builds on decades of collaboration between the FDA, SAS and US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS uses SAS software extensively in several other agencies, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. SAS is used in numerous applications for disease surveillance, food and drug safety, combatting the opioid crisis, Medicare fraud and abuse, and other enterprise performance management initiatives throughout HHS.

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