Can better data defeat the next pandemic?

Northwell Health has built an elaborate data system to track and fight COVID-19. If this system goes global, it could prevent a future pandemic.

MICHAEL DOWLING: During the COVID crisis, we had a system dashboard. So each day we collected information on about 20 different things: the details about new patients coming in; the condition of the patients that we had; the situation with patients leaving; the data about how many people were on vents, how many people were in the ICU on a daily basis, how each of those numbers changed, where you could identify trends.

We also had extraordinary data on staffing, where our staff were, the situations with our staff, the talents that each of our staff had, where we could deploy the staff. All of that was extraordinarily important and I would say that we probably had the most elaborate dashboard of any health system dealing with this crisis, which I think can become a template for what others should be using. And of course, whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it. So, more locally, let me mention that what we have developed in our health system is we have developed a local surveillance tracking system right now. So we, for example, now on a daily basis know the incidents of respiratory disease and other such factors in every single one of our locations across the region.

So, for example, just a week and a half ago we noticed that in one part of our geography there was a huge spike in one region. So we jumped on it right away to find out, what does that really mean? Because if you can anticipate that way in advance, you probably have five or six days of anticipated room before you know that you're going to have a problem at the end. So we have developed those and we're working with the State of New York to have the State of New York enhance its surveillance systems. So the lessons learned by systems a lot like ours at the ground level can obviously be taken and replicated on a global and national level.

Where we were very lacking as a country was in surveillance. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been—and should be now—working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England, and others, to figure out how to develop a surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur. Because we will have another pandemic. So we should use the lessons from this opportunity to develop the data systems to be able to figure out how to anticipate those future ones.

  • This coronavirus pandemic is very much still ongoing, but now is the time to discern its lessons so that we are more prepared for the next one. Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, shares how their health system is collecting and utilizing vast amounts of health data to best care for patients and to quickly identify and manage COVID-19 surges.
  • "I would say that we probably had the most elaborate dashboard of any health system dealing with this crisis," says Dowling. Northwell Health has also developed a "local surveillance tracking system" which has allowed them to react to COVID spikes early. Dowling hopes that these systems will be adopted by and improved upon by other networks.
  • In addition to improvements to New York State's illness surveillance system, Dowling hopes to see a more global approach to fighting the pandemic where infection data is tracked shared between nations and warning signs can be acted on early enough to avoid another crisis.