Leveraging Healthcare Data in the Fight Against COVID-19

Leveraging Healthcare Data in the Fight Against COVID-19

MANTA Business Use Cases & Case Studies
April 8, 2020
Zosia Szczech

There’s no doubt that healthcare institutions and healthcare workers are playing a crucial role in fighting the current COVID-19 pandemic. Professionals on all levels, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, and hospital administration are doing a tremendous job on the front lines of the fight against coronavirus, and we cannot thank them enough for what they are doing. The industry is also flooded with thousands of new data elements. Knowing their flows and transformations is a big help when fighting on this battlefield. There are ways that data lineage can help with:

  1. Understanding that the data you are working with has known, traceable, and trusted origins. In such turbulent times when everything is changing so quickly, it is easy to fall into the trap of relying on data coming from low-quality data sources and to make harmful decisions.
  2. Following (newly updated!) privacy policies such as HIPAA and respecting human rights while being as productive as possible in the fight against coronavirus.

Let’s look at how data lineage can help address the issues that the healthcare industry is facing during this rough time.

Trust in Data for Better Cooperation

To fight the pandemic, the cooperation between healthcare, government, and academic institutions must be on the highest level. There is no room for mistakes, hesitations, or giving the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making decisions, forecasting, or coming up with pandemic mitigation strategies.

It’s extremely challenging, since time is not our best ally now. At the same time, cutting corners just to deliver quick decisions can cost lives in the current situation. Understanding data flows across the systems of the aforementioned institutions is a crucial step, saving tons of time that can be better spent taking real action to help reduce the spread of the virus. 

Data analytics also plays a huge role here. The current situation is new to governments across the globe. Is there a perfect approach to preventing the virus’ spread? Providing the answer requires coolheaded analysis and comparison of all kinds of data. Every second counts now. If there’s anything one government can learn from another, it must be backed up by solid data, not based on positive headlines from a short period of time. In order to trust data, it is necessary to make sure that its foundations (sources) are unshakeable.

Compare Yesterday and Today

It is only possible to get an accurate picture of the situation by analyzing and comparing current and past data journeys. With the number of cases changing so quickly, a plan of action must be provided equally fast. But it’s absolutely essential that healthcare and government organizations back up their decisions based on how the situation really is, not what they assume it is like. With so much negative information acquired daily, we are likely to act based on worst-case scenarios. And such an approach can backfire if the actions taken are disproportionate. To prevent this from happening, harnessing all previous and current data journeys is a must. Changes are being made so dynamically using various sources, so it’s not unlikely that mistakes will be made and will have to be corrected. This will result in inaccurate reporting, but concurrent revisions can help here. Comparing the state of the environment or data flows at any selected point in time makes it easy to fix incorrectly identified sources or directories. Knowing the current state of data flows and how they have evolved over the past weeks or months through a series of rapid changes increases trust and helps you understand the consequences of the implemented changes.

HIPAA and GDPR Compliance

The never-ending story of HIPAA compliance. Healthcare institutions know the consequences of noncompliance only too well. If you’ve heard about the HIPAA waiver, you might think that healthcare institutions don’t have to worry about it anymore. Penalties for HIPAA non-compliance have been lifted so healthcare professionals can do whatever it takes with data they have to treat COVID-19 positive patients and disclose the necessary information to the media and those who may have been exposed. The only problem is that this is not true.

The Limited Privacy Waiver only applies to hospitals that have instituted disaster protocol and only for a maximum of 72 hours from protocol implementation.

After this time, hospitals must comply with HIPAA. Once the situation goes back to normal, we can also expect an increased demand for reporting and documenting how databases were being maintained and secured during the pandemic. Can you identify the location of sensitive data? Do you know what transformations were performed on it?

With regard to GDPR compliance, there are no relaxations in the regulation at the moment. All institutions dealing with data of European Union citizens are still required to adhere to all the terms of the regulations.

We also need to remember that we are only human, and in such situations healthcare workers, knowing that they can access data that they shouldn’t, will be tempted to check records to perhaps inform their families, friends, and neighbors about cases in the community. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Even under the current circumstances, data snooping is unacceptable. With data lineage, you can easily see all data journeys and their transformations, which helps you identify whether the data was used solely for the intended purpose.

Reporting and Transparency

From the local to the international level, healthcare institutions are required to report new cases, recoveries, and deaths on a daily basis. Based on national reports and protocols, the World Health Organization issues situation reports every day. In the times of the pandemic, access to information is an absolute must. Understanding the healthcare data life cycle is critical, and such reports must be based on trusted data.

  • How accurate are the numbers?
  • Can they be trusted?
  • What are their sources?
  • Were there any particular data transformations prior to including them in the report?

All those questions can easily be answered with automated data lineage, allowing enterprises to ensure that publicly issued reports can be trusted and present the current regional situation exactly how it is, and allowing local authorities to take relevant actions without under- or overestimating the measures. The sharing and reuse of valid, traceable data are made possible by the insights provided by end-to-end data lineage.

There’s no point in arguing that the world was not prepared to handle the COVID19 pandemic. The enormous amount of data that healthcare and government institutions are currently coping with must be used in the best possible way to enable cooperation, provide access to trusted information, and most importantly, mitigate and eventually stop the spread. Here is how to delve deeper and learn more about data lineage for healthcare.