Open trusted coronavirus data must be a national priority: Hospitals, release your data directly on your website to comply with HHS

We need to collect, organize, and publicly release trusted data on coronavirus. This now falls unexpectedly on our hospitals. This July 10 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) memo charges hospitals with reporting coronavirus data as follows:

If Hospitals and acute/post-acute medical facilities should report daily capacity and utilization data through only one of the methods below, to the Federal Government.

  1. If your state has assumed reporting responsibility, submit all data to your state each day and your state will submit on your behalf.
  2. Submit data to TeleTrackingTM [https://teletracking.protect.hhs.gov].
  3. Authorize your health IT vendor or other third-party to share information directly with HHS. Use one of the above alternate methods until your ASPR Regional Administrator or HHS Protect notifies you that this implementation is being received and is compliant.
  4. Publish to the hospital or facility’s website in a standardized format, such as schema.org. Use one of the above alternate methods until your ASPR Regional Administrator or HHS Protect notifies you that this implementation is being received.

As many have widely reported hospitals are instructed to cease reporting to the CDC, and that HHS Protect is developed by Palantir Technologies who presumably would have access to the data. However the memo does not instruct the hospitals to keep these data confidential to the public, but only states that one of the four options must be used for reporting to the Federal Government. Option 4 says the hospitals can publish formatted data to their website, and option 1 allows states to gather hospital data and pass it through to the Federal Government. States can therefore, presumably, release the data publicly as well as report it to the Federal Government, and assuming good faith on the part of HHS Protect (e.g. not blocking option 4 by claiming it cannot receive the data), data can be scraped from hospital websites by the public as well as by the Federal Government.

If hospitals released their coronavirus data directly on their website using schema.org standardized formats, this would make the data open and accessible to the public and well as state and federal government. States could gather their hospitals’ data and release it to the public daily, as they also release it to the Federal Government. These data could be checked back to the source as data enthusiasts could gather data from the hospitals individually as well.

The least favorable outcome from the point of view of data access and transparency would be for hospitals, or states, to report data directly to HHS Protect without making it publicly available at the same time. As I have argued it is possible to make daily data publicly available and comply with the memo, and perhaps even do so more efficiently.

Hospitals should choose Option 4, and make their data and standardized schema.org formats publicly available.

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