Systems Upgrades, Staffing Challenges, and Community Key Themes of Public Health Infrastructure Webinar

November 15, 2021

Last month, we had the privilege of hosting three leaders in the field of disease surveillance and public health informatics to discuss the challenges faced in their states during the COVID-19 pandemic and the infrastructure modernization efforts underway:

  • Jim Collins, Director, Communicable Disease Division, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
  • Erin Holt Coyne, Chief Public Health Informatics Officer, Tennessee Department of Health
  • Bryant Thomas Karras, Chief Informatics Officer and Senior Epidemiologist, Washington State Department of Health

A few key themes emerged. All panelists commented on how the volume of data and demand for reporting has been unprecedented during the pandemic, placing strain on disease surveillance systems, as well as data governance and processes. The pandemic has highlighted the need for system upgrades—in the case of Washington, accelerating plans to move to a cloud-based system, and in Michigan, triggering an overhaul of its disease surveillance system to be more scalable and modular.

Panelists commented that staffing has been a challenge as well—with extraordinary demands on existing staff coupled with some staff being recruited away by vendors during the pandemic. In Tennessee, these challenges have resulted in deploying more contract workers and cross-training of staff in other departments.

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Lastly, an underlying thread in the conversation was the importance of community. Panelists discussed how valuable it has been to lean on one another and trusted partners in their community to meet the unparalleled demands of the time and expressed a commitment to sharing lessons learned.

To that end, the modernized disease surveillance system Altarum is developing for the State of Michigan, will be made available at minimal or no cost to other jurisdictions. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these efforts with those who would like to learn more!

If you were unable to attend the webinar, you can watch it below (hint: controls allow full-screen viewing). As one attendee noted, “Nothing like a lunch Zoom with rock stars in public data interoperability.”

Altarum is a nonprofit organization that works with federal and state agencies and foundations to design and implement solutions to improve the health of individuals with fewer financial resources and populations disenfranchised by the health care system. We achieve measurable results by combining our expertise in public health and health care delivery with technology, workforce training and continuing education, applied research, and technical assistance. Our innovative solutions lead to better health for beneficiaries and better value for payers.