Summit Emphasizes Critical Need for Modern, Interoperable Data Systems to Address Health Threats, Ensure Equitable Health

Four-part Lights, Camera, Action Summit Series Examines Key Focus Areas to prepare the Nation’s Public Health System for the Future

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a bright spotlight on the nation’s public health infrastructure and underscored the need for investment in and development of comprehensive, flexible and interoperable data systems to track and address both chronic health challenges as well as future infectious disease outbreaks. Last week, organizations and individuals representing a variety of sectors gathered for the second summit in the Lights, Camera, Action: The Future of Public Health summit series to discuss the critical topic of data modernization and its link to better health outcomes for all.

“Our ultimate goal is to move from siloed and brittle public health data systems to connected, resilient, adaptable and sustainable ‘response-ready’ systems,” said Daniel B. Jernigan, MD, MPH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) deputy director for Public Health Science and Surveillance. “Having these systems in place can help us solve problems before they happen and reduce the harm caused by the problems that do happen, whether it’s addressing longstanding issues like health equity or preparing our nation for the next infectious or non-infectious threat.”

Jernigan noted that progress is being made in the public health community in this regard compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic, with now more than 10,300 healthcare facilities using electronic case reporting versus 187 previously. In addition, he said that data pipelines have advanced to inform action on the part of public health professionals with more than 530 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines being tracked in just over a year and clinical and environmental labs now sharing more than 1.5 million results per day with CDC.

But much work remains, ranging from improvements needed in how the public, public health, healthcare and other sectors use new technologies to creating standards and future-forward data systems that enable real-time and actionable intelligence in service to the public’s health.

Emphasizing this point, Judy Monroe, MD, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation told attendees, “We need to know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. Architecture and design matter. Context matters. Equity matters. Most importantly, each of you matter.”

The issue of ensuring that improvements in data lead to improvements in the health and wellness of everyone, everywhere was also central to the summit’s discussion. Gail Christopher, board chair of the Trust for America’s Health, spoke to this need and the challenge that accompanies it. “We need to bring equity into the center and not an afterthought, not an also but at the center. We need to listen to the voices of people whose voices are usually not expressed.”

In light of new resources and unprecedented funding, a number of speakers highlighted the opportunity this moment presents to build and connect data systems and prepare the workforce to use data to its full potential.

One need is to address interoperability issues. Micky Tripathi, PhD, MPP, national coordinator for Health Information Technology in the HHS Office of the Secretary, described his office’s work with CDC to leverage health information technology ecosystems and to advance a public health system architecture to improve access to clinical data for actionable intelligence for state, tribal, local and territorial health authorities. “Health departments are burdened by too much time spent on data wrangling, which leaves too little time for actionable intelligence.” Tripathi described a “North Star” architecture that would provide health departments with the benefits of cloud-based technologies while ensuring local control of data access and use.

Beyond the government sector, Nirav Shah, MD, MPH, chief medical officer, Sharecare, highlighted the creative work of a number of nongovernmental and private sector organizations in moving rapidly to stand up insightful data series, such as testing wastewater systems for COVID-19 virus and using data from smart thermometers to track seasonal influenza. He noted, “We are seeing many private companies doing the work of public health.”

Another opportunity to create action-oriented intelligence and results is to move beyond traditional thinking when it comes to data, including envisioning new points for data collection enabled by personal technology. “We need to start thinking about ways to capture data outside of our traditional systems. Much of the COVID-19 testing is now happening at home and not in health institutions,” said Ethan Berke, MD, MPH, senior vice president and chief public health officer of UnitedHealth Group.

Ultimately, modernizing data systems will have tremendous payback to the United States. According to Jernigan, it will lead to better preparedness and health through better forecasting and outbreak analytics; rapid outbreak response; linking and integrating data from diverse sources for more actionable insights; and connecting public health and healthcare data to create hubs for data exchange while protecting privacy and security.

A full recording of the latest summit is available on the on the summit series website at

The United Health Foundation, the philanthropic foundation of UnitedHealth Group; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and The Pew Charitable Trusts are providing initial support for the Lights, Camera, Action Summit Series. This support is aimed at helping to catalyze actions to rebuild confidence, foster health equity and transform our nation’s public health system. Others interested in supporting this mission should contact the CDC Foundation at

The CDC Foundation is convening the summit series in collaboration with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC), and other public health partners. The first summit in the series focused on achieving a diverse and robust public health workforce. Two future summits are currently planned, and these are focused on Effectively Financing Governmental Public Health Functions and Strengthening Public Health Law and Governance to Support a Modern System (Feb. 23, 2022), with the summit after that focused on Catalyzing Cross-Sectoral Partnerships and Community Engagement (March 2022).

About the CDC Foundation:The CDC Foundation helps the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) save and improve lives by unleashing the power of collaboration between CDC, philanthropies, corporations, organizations and individuals to protect the health, safety and security of America and the world. The CDC Foundation is the go-to nonprofit authorized by Congress to mobilize philanthropic partners and private-sector resources to support CDC’s critical health protection mission. Since 1995, the CDC Foundation has raised over $1.6 billion and launched more than 1,200 programs impacting a variety of health threats from chronic disease conditions including cardiovascular disease and cancer, to infectious diseases like rotavirus and HIV, to emergency responses, including COVID-19 and Ebola. The CDC Foundation managed hundreds of CDC-led programs in the United States and in more than 140 countries last year.

About ASTHO:ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and Freely Associated States, and Washington, D.C., as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice. For more information, visit

About BCHC: The Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) is a forum for the leaders of America’s largest metropolitan health departments to exchange strategies and jointly address issues to promote and protect the health and safety of their residents. Collectively, BCHC member jurisdictions directly impact nearly 62 million people, or one in five Americans. For more information, visit

About NACCHO:The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) represents the nation’s nearly 3,000 local health departments. These city, county, metropolitan, district, and tribal departments work every day to protect and promote health and well-being for all people in their communities. For more information about NACCHO, please visit