The COVID-19 pandemic plunged many government and healthcare organizations into a data-driven race against time. The need to effectively track infections, monitor PPE supply, distribute vaccines, and make fast and deliberate public health decisions placed many organizations in the challenging position of rapidly innovating their data integration efforts while facing immense public pressure. However, Contra Costa, a county in the San Francisco Bay Area with a population of 1.1 million people, provides a stunning example of a data-forward health department that already had a solid foundation of integrated data in place and was able to seamlessly support the large-scale demands of a sudden public health crisis.
Bhumil Shah, who has served as the Chief Analytics Officer of Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) for over twenty years, said, “Unless you have a way to mine the data and make it actionable, it’s just more noise.” As an integrated health department that covers a variety of services, including hospitals and clinics, healthcare plans, correctional health, environmental health, restaurant inspections, and more, CCHS was in a unique position to potentially leverage a broad range of data. Shah’s goal was to make sure that this data would be able to help identify specific actionable information.
Two high-stakes opportunities on the federal level prompted CCHS to significantly transform their data – first, in 2010, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) pushed for the adoption of electronic healthcare records and generated department-wide enthusiasm for the massive amount of data that was suddenly available, leading to partnerships and collaborations across agencies and organizations. Second, in 2015, a federal Medicaid waiver program offered millions in funding to local health departments for meeting certain performance targets. To address this, CCHS partnered with Qlik to integrate the Qlik Sense dashboard system, consolidate a broad range of data, and convert it into actionable insights. These dashboards caught on very quickly, and many operational leaders and departments signed on to use them.
Shah described how prevalent practices in IT – such as the process of pulling data requests on a ticket system – can prevent data teams from seeing a problem as a whole. It was necessary to shift from this mentality altogether. Members of the data team began participating in other operational team discussions. With this move, CCHS aimed for their data to look at the bigger picture – to be able to identify outside factors such as patient demographics, gaps in the system, or access to food or transportation. This data could then inform actionable insights, such as allowing case managers to identify patients that are falling behind on preventative services or have unmet social needs.
As COVID-19 hit, CCHS had already laid the groundwork to tackle the data challenges brought by the pandemic. Through their partnership with Qlik, CCHS was able to quickly answer to public demands and launch public-facing COVID-19 dashboards in just two weeks. The dashboards were able to present COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths, and people could then break the statistics down further by factors such as race, ethnicity, age, availability of hospital beds, long-term care facility status, homeless population, and progress on set benchmarks that would inform public safety decisions.
CCHS’s early efforts in developing their data integration and interoperability to provide actionable insights paved the way for a data team that was ready to respond to COVID-19. To learn more about CCHS’s journey to this point, read Shah’s case study, Transforming Data Noise Into Healthcare Action.