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Home$80 Million to Boost Public Health It, COVID-19 Data Collection, and Representation in the Workforce

$80 Million to Boost Public Health It, COVID-19 Data Collection, and Representation in the Workforce

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) announced, June 17th, the establishment of an $80 million Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program (PHIT Workforce Program) to strengthen U.S. public health informatics and data science. 

A program for minority serving colleges, universities and institutions

Colleges, universities and other institutions which serve minorities are invited by the ONC to apply for funding through a consortium that is going to develop the curriculum, recruit and train participants, secure paid internship opportunities, and assist in career placement at public health agencies, public health-focused non-profits or public health-focused private sector or clinical settings. The invitation is addressed particularly to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs).

This initiative is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to root out pervasive health and socioeconomic inequities, greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, and ensure the U.S. healthcare system is better equipped for the next public health emergency. 

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The notice of funding opportunity for the Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program reflects ongoing work by ONC and other HHS agencies as part of the President’s Executive Order on Ensuring a Sustainable Public Health Workforce for COVID-19 and Other Biological Threats. The Executive Order calls for creating and sustaining a public health workforce capable of adequately and equitably performing community-based testing to enable the nation to better respond to future pandemics and other biological threats. The funding also supports President Biden’s commitment to hire public health workers from the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities they serve.

Data collection, very important for the healthcare system

The COVID-19 pandemic  was a huge shock to the healthcare system, already under pressure because of red-tape issues, lack of funding and insufficient access to healthcare for all.  In a matter of days, our interconnected, always-on society had shut down.

With stay-at-home orders imposed, everything changed. Office personnel struggled to re-establish their routine in a different setting, parents had to learn exactly how hard teaching was. 2020 has forced change on us all. These shifts have had health consequences, both good and bad, consequences that had to be documented and transformed into data. 

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Global big data in the healthcare market is booming, being expected to reach $34.27 billion by 2022 at a CAGR of 22.07%. Globally, the big data analytics segment is expected to be worth more than $68.03 billion by 2024, driven largely by continued North American investments in electronic health records, practice management tools, and workforce management solutions. Data is very important, because it provides insight, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic this insight could potentially help patients get the treatment they needed. Holon Solutions has built a patented technology software, CollaborNet®, which provides healthcare practices with patient insights so that they can focus on delivering optimal patient care. So, having the right information about the people you are trying to treat is crucial. 

Not enough information, especially around race and ethnicity-specific data 

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved the US public health reporting and data analysis has gaps, particularly around race and ethnicity-specific data. Some of these gaps can be caused by limited technological infrastructure and chronic underfunding of the staff needed to support public health data reporting at the state and local levels. Federal efforts to center equity in the COVID-19 response and future public health responses will be improved by robust data collection and reporting around infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates, as well as underlying health and social vulnerabilities, that is disaggregated by race and ethnicity, age, gender, and other key variables.

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“Representation is important – particularly when we are deploying technology to tackle our most pressing health care challenges. Ensuring that diverse representation is better reflected all throughout our healthcare system is a priority for the Biden-Harris administration,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “With this funding, we will be able to train and create new opportunities for thousands of minorities long underrepresented in our public health informatics and technology fields. Investing in efforts that create a pipeline of diverse professionals, particularly in high-skilled public health technology fields, will help us better prepare for future public health emergencies.”

A 4 year program for over 4,000 people 

The PHIT Workforce Program will train more than 4,000 individuals over a four-year period through an interdisciplinary approach in public health informatics and technology. Under the PHIT Workforce Program, ONC will award up to $75 million to cooperative agreement recipients and use the remaining $5 million to support the program’s overall administration. Award recipients will need to ensure their training, certificate, degree, and placement programs are sustainable to create a continuous pipeline of diverse public health information technology professionals. In addition to representing a consortium, applicants will be expected to participate in a community of practice where they will be able to learn from each other and share resources and best practices.

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“The limited number of public health professionals trained in informatics and technology was one of the key challenges the nation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Micky Tripathi, Ph.D., national coordinator for health information technology. “This new funding will help to address that need by supporting the efforts of minority serving institutions and other colleges and universities across the nation to educate and launch individuals into public health careers.”

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