HHS seeks formal approval for emergency COVID-19 portal

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The Department of Health and Human Services is seeking formal approval for the portal it created on an emergency basis to collect daily COVID-19 data from about 5,500 hospitals.

HHS posted an information collection request (ICR) Friday in the Federal Register for its Teletracking COVID-19 Portal, which replaced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) collecting hospital coronavirus data in July.

The portal allows hospitals to directly report coronavirus data requested by HHS on patients tested, bed capacity and supply requirements. The data then informs the government’s understanding of the spread and helps craft prevention and control policies.

“We acknowledge the burden placed on many hospitals, including resource constraints, and have allowed for some flexibilities, such as back-submissions or submitting every business days, with the understanding that respondents may not have sufficient staff working over the weekend,” reads the request. “It is our belief that collection of this information daily is the most effective way to detect outbreaks and needs for federal assistance over time, by hospital and geographical area, and to alert the appropriate officials for action.”

The ICR estimates each hospital’s daily reporting burden at 1.5 hours — more than 3 million hours among all contributors in a year.

Required data elements were last updated in Jan. 12 guidance, at the request of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. HHS acting Chief Information Officer Perryn Ashmore and the CDC are working with U.S. Digital Service and states and localities to harmonize them.

Refining the collected hospital data remains critical to ongoing federal coronavirus response efforts, with the Teletracking COVID-19 Portal being used to determine allocations of limited personal protective equipment (PPE) and medicine.

In at least one case, HHS has tried to reduce the reporting burden. The department has ceased sporadic requests for data from hospitals aiding its distribution of Remdesivir, which limits the effects of COVID-19. But overall, consolidated daily reporting is still needed for accurate distribution of other items, according to the ICR.

People have until Feb. 22 to comment on the necessity of the portal, estimated reporting burden and ways to improve collection like automation.

Generally agencies must obtain ICR approval from the Office of Management and Budget before collecting information from 10 or more members of the public, but the urgency of the pandemic allowed for the portal’s creation. If OMB for some reason fails to approve the ICR, data collection would cease.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronavirus, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), Perryn Ashmore, USDS, web portal, White House Coronavirus Task Force
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