For-profit hospital chain HCA Healthcare is encouraging other hospitals to share COVID-19 data through a new project it unveiled Monday, dubbed the COVID-19 National Response Portal.
HCA's vision is for hospitals across the U.S. to share data on COVID-19 testing results, critical-care beds, ventilator utilization and patient discharges, which the platform can aggregate to aid in response to the novel coronavirus. Illustrating the spread of the pandemic could help hospitals plan for challenges such as patient surges.
"It's hard to get an overall picture of what's going on," said Edmund Jackson, HCA's chief data officer, of how COVID-19 is affecting the country. "Where is there a heavy load, and where is there a light load? Where's it growing, where's it not growing?"
The COVID-19 National Response Portal is a collaboration between HCA, Google Cloud and Sada Systems, a technology consulting and managed services firm focused on cloud tools. The portal is designed to be a platform where healthcare organizations can pool their data to get a clearer look into "the facts on the ground," Jackson said.
HCA has reached out to trade groups and group purchasing organizations to invite their members to share data through the portal. Altogether, the system has contacted groups representing roughly 4,000 hospitals, according to a news release.
Hospitals would be able to share data to the portal multiple times so that it can display an updated view of COVID-19's spread each day.
Much of the data that hospitals submit to the portal is already being requested by the federal government, according to Jackson. HCA has committed to providing data from its 185 hospitals.
The portal is run on Google's cloud and built by Sada, which will continue to operate the platform.
Hospitals that participate in sharing data with the portal will sign a data use agreement with Sada. The data itself will not be shared with Google Cloud, Jackson said.
Aggregated data from the portal is expected to be live and viewable to the public next week. That data will be displayed at the county level, and won't include data at the patient- or hospital-level.
"There's no (protected health information) changing hands here," Jackson said. "Patient information is not being shared. Counts are being shared."
Getting detailed data into coronavirus hot spots is something that public health experts and the White House have said will help to inform response to the pandemic. Last month Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House's task force, suggested disease mapping could help to better target interventions.
However, it's been difficult to accurately display and project the spread of the disease, given the limited number of tests available to confirm where cases of COVID-19 actually are.
That's led researchers and companies to try out new approaches to mapping the outbreak, such as by tracking COVID-19 symptoms, searches for disease information and even temperatures from smart thermometers. The COVID-19 National Response Portal joins these projects as another option for aggregating information.
Collecting data on confirmed COVID-19 cases isn't enough to help hospitals plan, Jackson said.
That's just "one level of data," he said. "The deeper level of what that translates to in the hospital system is what (we're) trying to address."
In addition to hospital-reported information about the outbreak, the portal will also use data about local shelter-in-place policies, mobility patterns and other information it can pull from publicly available data sets to draw out insights on how different behaviors could impact the virus' spread.
The COVID-19 National Response Portal represents another way Google is teaming up with healthcare organizations in response to COVID-19. Google's sister company Verily Life Sciences in March launched a website designed to screen users for COVID-19 risk and direct suspected cases to testing sites, sparking privacy concerns over how the company intends to use the data it collects.