Data Sharing Frameworks Can Help States Prepare for the Next COVID-19


Data Sharing Frameworks Can Help States Prepare for the Next COVID-19

Many states were unprepared for the health and economic toll that COVID-19 has imposed upon them, but the ones that have invested in a data sharing framework have shown they’re in a better position to handle the rapidly evolving crisis. Indeed, the decisions that state and local governments are making when it comes to treating cases, opening up businesses, and a host of other factors are all being driven by one question: what is the data telling all of us?

For those state and local governments that have not yet created their own data sharing frameworks, it’s now time to begin modernizing IT systems, building their own frameworks, and preparing for the next crisis. A data sharing framework can provide states with actionable intelligence and real-time information they can use to significantly improve their ability to respond and protect their citizens.

Virginia provides a blueprint for preparedness

What’s happening today in Virginia is an excellent example of how one state’s investment in a data sharing framework prepared them for the impact of COVID-19.

In 2017, the state piloted a data sharing platform to track and proactively address the state’s growing opioid epidemic. That led to the 2019 announcement of the Framework for Addiction Analysis and Community Transformation (FAACT) program. Developed by Qlarion, FAACT compiles data from various state and local agencies, healthcare and community organizations, and law enforcement and presents analysis that all of these groups can use to allocate resources and target treatment efforts.

When COVID-19 began making inroads into the state, the state didn’t have the luxury of time to wait and deal with the crisis. Fortunately, the legal and technical aspects of the data sharing framework, which was originally built for opioid analysis, were already well established. Normally, it would have taken weeks or months for Virginia to successfully resolve any legal issues and build a solid technical foundation. Because the state was prepared with a legal and technical agreement (Data Trust), it took only a few days for officials to bring together data across three secretariats and outside organizations and get a more complete picture of the impact of COVID-19.

Today, the state is able to quickly identify hospitals in need of supplies and pharmaceuticals, healthcare facilities with the capacity to handle patient surges, supply chain difficulties, gaps in patient and lab testing, and areas with the largest occurrences of COVID-19 cases. This information is updated as frequently as every 15 minutes, providing a near real-time window into current COVID-19 metrics.

How to build a data sharing framework

The development of FAACT involved a strategic, step-by-step process that can be emulated in any state or local region. To get started on their own data sharing frameworks, agencies should:

  • Identify a unifying issue. What’s the one issue that will compel stakeholders to participate? For Virginia, it was the opioid crisis. For other states, it could be getting people back to work, improving road safety, or addressing equity in education. Whatever the challenge, it needs to be big and compelling enough to overshadow any potential cultural resistance.
  • Determine goals and metrics. These could be different depending on the problem agencies are trying to tackle. For an opioid epidemic, a core metric could be reducing the number of deaths in a state per year. For a pandemic, it could be flattening the curve as it relates to the number of patients in ICUs. Work with end users to determine their initial requirements and match goals to those requirements.
  • Establish a data governance framework and data trust. Coordinate logistics with key stakeholders, including lawyers who will need to sign off on data-sharing agreements. Coordinating legal, governance and technical matters upfront is important to establishing a program where data can easily and securely be shared amongst agencies.
  • Develop a pilot program. A proof-of-concept can help state and local governments test and refine their efforts before going live and demonstrate value very quickly—in the best cases, under six months.
  • Evaluate data storage, sharing, and analytics tools and capabilities. Decades-old database systems are likely not going to be powerful or agile enough to provide the type of processing and analytics powers needed to deliver real-time data across many different types of metrics. Agencies should take a close look at their current systems and modernize as needed, breaking down data silos so that information can be easily accessed and distributed.
  • Review, document, and standardize available data. State and local governments collect a lot of raw data. To make that information useful, agencies must review the information that’s available and choose the data that’s relevant to achieving their objectives. The selected data should be documented and standardized in a way that protects individuals’ privacy rights and enables information to be easily shared among different systems. Ensuring that each data point is well defined so that it can be compared to other data points without misinterpretation is a critical part of this process.
  • Continuously improve by employing an agile and iterative approach. Maintaining a feedback loop with pilot program users can spur continuous improvement. By adopting an agile and iterative approach, programs can be refined and adjusted to ensure they are reaching their benchmarks.

Following these steps will allow states to build trusted platforms that will help them prepare for just about any crisis.

There is no off-the-shelf product for trust

Data sharing requires trust. Trust does not come from purchasing a product; it is built over time through relationships. It is created by establishing clear governance policies and providing a framework for data control and security. It is established by giving citizens reassurances that their data is safe and being used for a proper governmental response.

Establishing a trusted data sharing platform takes a lot of effort, but it will end up being well worth it. The investments in time and technology will pay off. Take it from Virginia, where Chief Data Officer Carlos Rivero said:

“This expansion of FAACT unites information from sources across the Commonwealth to provide decision makers with the insight needed to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Better yet, we were able to do so quickly and efficiently. Had we not previously had the technical, legal, and governance infrastructure in place through FAACT and the corresponding Commonwealth Data Trust, the expansion that took us just days to complete would have taken months. We were prepared and that preparation allowed us to best support our constituents and communities during a time when it’s needed the most.”

A success story in difficult times

Over the past few months, time and again we’ve heard scientists and politicians utter the phrase “we must follow the data.” Virginia has done that successfully—now twice—and it will be prepared to do so again in the future. The state has shown the rest of the country how important a modern data sharing platform can be for multiple use cases.

Whether or not we’re ready for the next coronavirus outbreak—or any emerging crisis, for that matter—will depend on the steps we take today to be better prepared. I urge state and local governments across the country to follow Virginia’s lead if they are looking to adopt a more formalized data-driven strategy for decision making.