Michigan Association of Health Plans

Data sharing among health providers boosts Michigan’s pandemic response

Since COVID-19 began making headlines in March, Michiganders have relied on maps and graphs of COVID-19 cases and deaths to inform their daily activities. Behind those color-coded counties and line graphs, data sharing among Michigan’s many health providers has helped the public, health care organizations, and public health professionals better understand the pandemic.

“A lot of different data systems are used in public health. Healthcare providers, physicians, and facilities are reporting information to public health on cases, including information during the height of the first wave,” says Dr. Sarah Lyon-Callo, director and state epidemiologist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Epidemiology and Population Health. “We’re always grateful to health care providers for taking time out to share that information.”

One of many systems that has proven essential, the Michigan Syndromic Surveillance System, facilitates rapid detection and response to unusual outbreaks of illness. While a global pandemic like COVID-19 had not been considered during its design, the system’s real-time collection of patient data has helped map numbers of people seeking care for COVID-19 symptoms and helped direct response, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) distribution, tracking hospital beds, and creating additional care facilities.

“It tracks how many emergency room visits [and] what sorts of symptoms people communicate as chief complaints – for example, respiratory conditions,” Lyon-Callo explains. “We were able to make use of this data feed timely by looking at influenza- and COVID-19-like complaints.”

Another vital player in Michigan health data sharing is the Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA), which represents all community hospitals in Michigan. Its data services help hospitals create comparative reports on patient demographics, outcomes, and utilization, as well as track their impacts on health and wellbeing in their communities. Since the implementation of MDHHS COVID-19 data reporting requirements, MHA has helped its members connect with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ TeleTracking portal, which submits data to both state and federal health and human services agencies.

“Michigan’s data sharing is actually pretty good and has in many ways benefited pandemic response,” says Jim Lee, vice president of data policy and analytics at MHA. “We work very closely with [Lyon-Callo] and the MDHHS around helping provide as much data as possible to help them from a public health perspective.”

Tim Pletcher, executive director of the Michigan Health Information Network (MiHIN), believes sharing data has been essential to getting the word out about the pandemic’s progress and determining what to do about it. Launched in 2010 by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, MiHIN is a public and private nonprofit collaboration that supports the statewide exchange of health information, connecting Michigan healthcare providers via electronic health care records. It also works to provide both a legal framework and policy infrastructure to safeguard and standardize health data transfer.

“We’ve been able to deliver healthcare providers data that’s accurate from day one [of the pandemic],” Pletcher says. “It’s been a whole lot easier because we had this pre-existing infrastructure. The relationships and trust and recognition of the impact of public health agenda wasn’t something a bunch of IT people had to learn.”

This article was originally featured in Second Wave Michigan, read more here.