US aims $80m of its rescue plan funding at public health IT


President Joe Biden's $3 billion pandemic rescue package includes $80 million in funding for to strengthen the US's public health IT and data science capabilities. 

The top-line objective is to make sure that the US health care system is "better equipped for the next public health emergency," according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The HHS also wants to improve data collection and reporting around infection, hospitalisation, and mortality rates and to "root out pervasive health and socioeconomic inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic".

The pandemic disproportionately affected minority and underserved communities, and also exposed gaps in public health reporting and data analysis, particularly around race and ethnicity-specific data. The HHS attributes that at least in part to a shortage of staff and underfunding of public health IT at state and local levels.

The cash injection will go towards training more than 4,000 people over a four-year period in public health informatics and technology to create a steady flow through of public health IT specialists.

The hope is that bolstering the public health IT workforce will help tackle underlying health and social vulnerabilities.

A shortage of public health professionals trained in informatics and technology "was one of the key challenges the nation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic," according to Micky Tripathi, national coordinator for health information technology for the federal government.

In conjunction with the new funding, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is asking colleges and universities to apply for funding through the programme.

The ONC particularly wants to get applications from colleges and universities which have strong links to black, Hispanic, tribal, Asian American and native American/Pacific Islander groups as well as other minority-serving institutions.

A consortium will 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.

"Representation is important – particularly when we are deploying technology to tackle our most pressing health care challenges," 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," he added.

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay