How the Department of Health and Human Services manages, shares and secures its data is among the top management and performance challenges facing the agency.
That’s the assessment of the HHS Office of Inspector General, which contends that failure to modernize the agency’s data practices will severely limit its ability to improve the health and well-being of Americans.
“HHS operations depend on the effective collection and use of a large amount of sensitive and important data about individuals, healthcare providers, key public health assets, and other entities and actors, which are vital to improving the health and welfare of individuals in the nation,” states an OIG report released on Monday. “However, having large amounts of data does not mean that the data can be used efficiently and effectively.”
Auditors charge that data silos at the agency are hampering HHS efforts to leverage data for evidence-based decision making and better managing its programs and operating divisions.
“Data silos may also impede deployment of emerging technologies, such as machine learning, that have enormous potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the department,” according to the OIG. “When OpDivs and programs cannot access data from each other, they miss opportunities to improve the effectiveness of programs.”
OIG’s report calls on HHS to expand its capacity to use data in policy making, program management and deployment of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.
While the auditors note that HHS is making progress by exploring solutions through several recent pilots, demonstrations and other limited scope projects, they contend that significant barriers—legal, cultural and resource limitations—remain that these strategies and pilots alone will not solve.
“To overcome these barriers and fully harness data to improve the health and welfare of the nation, the department will need to undertake multiyear efforts and implement sustained change management across its OpDivs,” finds the report.
In addition, auditors recommend that HHS increase data access and sharing with healthcare stakeholders and the public.
“Much of HHS’s data are publicly available but may not be easy to use or may have other barriers that limit stakeholders’ and the public’s access or use,” concludes the report. “Those barriers present a challenge to providing increased access of HHS data that could lead to innovation and improvement in health and welfare.”