How Better Data Means Better Decisions in EmergenciesPosted on by
In an emergency, health workers need access to information quickly. They need to know the facts: Where is the outbreak occurring? Who is it affecting? How is it spreading?
People on the ground may each have critical pieces of the puzzle, but they may not be connecting. What’s needed is a central system where all the pieces of information are brought together and analyzed as events are happening. When responders see all the information in front of them, they can make better decisions and save lives.
Getting it together
In Vietnam, the ability to respond to outbreaks has been limited by our current reporting systems. Although there are lots of sources of data, they are fragmented. Vietnam currently has a notifiable disease reporting system, a sentinel system for several different specific diseases, a laboratory system, and a community based reporting system, but the data all come through different channels and cannot be easily linked or analyzed together. This is a major challenge for Vietnam, as it is for many other countries without centralized health reporting systems.
That’s why our first step is to create a data warehouse. Data warehouses are electronic systems that store critical health information in one place, so health workers know where to go when they need it.
The data warehouse brings all of the data streams together. It allows us to combine laboratory and epidemiologic data, for example, and to combine those data with other types of information such as population data. The warehouse converts everything to a standard format and makes all of the data accessible.
The data warehouse will be used by workers in Vietnam’s newly formed emergency operations center (EOC) to identify and respond to outbreaks. Having the data collected and used through the EOC means that data can be monitored in the place where it most needs to be monitored.
Making data into pictures
Once data has been gathered into the data warehouse, experts need to understand it. Graphs, charts, and other visuals can create a precise snapshot of disease at the country, provincial, district, and commune levels.
A data visualization platform, or dashboard, samples the data in the warehouse and makes it visible in real time. For example, if you have a graph of cases per week on the dashboard, when you open up the dashboard you see the number of cases per week as of this very minute. It provides an immediate, timely snapshot of what’s happening. The director of the institute or the manager of an outbreak can walk into the EOC and understand what is going on at a glance.
These things make the data available much earlier than they might otherwise be. Having the data in the warehouse makes them easily available, and the dashboard automates a lot of the routine analyses that now have to be carried out manually by combining spreadsheets from different data sources.
Having these data available in the EOC also allows easy sharing with other EOCs, and national and international partners. The dashboards can be shared in real-time – right on the screen – with other facilities. It helps with transparency and efficient collaborations.
“The visualization is beautiful, and easy to understand,” said Bui Huy Hoang, who learned to use data dashboards during a recent hands-on training session in Vietnam. As a trainer with PATH, it was a tremendous moment for me to see the excitement in participants’ faces as the data came to life through visualizations.
Data is at the heart of a good response. In Vietnam, CDC, PATH and other partners are finding new ways to gather, store, and analyze data to improve epidemiologic intelligence during emergencies and beyond. Together, we are creating a single, centralized system that will help responders see more complete data, and see it better.
Support for this work was provided by PATH, WHO, CDC in Atlanta and Vietnam, and other partners in collaboration with the General Department of Preventive Medicine (GDPM), Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, Tay Nguyen Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology. Special thanks to Tableau, who provided technical experts from InterWorks to facilitate the training on their data visualization software, and also donated product keys to Vietnamese health officials to support their data analysis capacity.
An international nonprofit organization, PATH saves lives and improves health, especially among women and children. PATH accelerates innovation across five platforms—vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations—that harness our entrepreneurial insight, scientific and public health expertise, and passion for health equity. Learn more at www.path.org.
The featured training and this blog were made possible through Cooperative Agreement Number 1U2GGH001812-01, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The contents of this blog are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services.