A team of doctors at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, the United States. (Photo: VCG)
The Trump administration is forcing U.S. hospitals to change their COVID-19 reporting system, which will have "serious consequences on data integrity," a group of more than 30 U.S. health officials warned in a letter.
Hospitals have been reporting all COVID-19 patients-related information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since the beginning of the pandemic, and the CDC's National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) is considered one of the country's most robust health tracking systems. But last month, the Trump administration abruptly ordered hospitals to divert crucial COVID-19 data to a new online system run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
"We are extremely concerned about this abrupt change in COVID-19 reporting, retiring NHSN's COVID-19 surveillance system will have serious consequences on data integrity," the officials wrote in the letter dated July 31.
They are all current or former members of the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC), a federal advisory committee that provides guidance to the HHS and CDC. In the title of the letter, they described the move as "another strike against science."
They said hospitals are now "scrambling to determine how to meet daily reporting requirements" with the new system. In fact, most electronic health records and tracking software systems provide a seamless data feed to CDC, "allowing hospitals to focus on patient safety rather than the tedious role of collecting and entering data."
One expert who signed the letter said the new data system was marred by inconsistencies, rendering it "almost impossible" to use for real-time decisions during the pandemic.
Hospitals questioned why the switch happened in the middle of a pandemic, saying they were unprepared as the administration notified them just days before the change took effect.
Public health groups also protested the sudden change and questioned whether the administration would manipulate the data for political purposes.
Besides, the officials argued that data experts at CDC have devoted their careers to gathering and providing transparent and actionable data, and the U.S. cannot lose" their decades of expertise in interpreting and analyzing crucial data with the goal of developing interventions that improve the public's health."
"We strongly advise that the CDC's data experts be allowed to continue their important and trusted work in their mission to save lives and protect Americans from health threats," the letter read.