As of now, we’ve been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic for many months. Although we still don’t know everything there is to know about this devastating disease, we have learned a lot. Drug companies are producing promising vaccines and we now know how COVID-19 spreads.
Active infections are still a huge problem. But masks and other public health initiatives have been able to help prevent at least some people from contracting COVID-19. In a pandemic, data can help steer decision-making like this and reduce the impact of a raging disease on people’s daily lives. With that said, it is up to governments and world leaders to listen to the experts and implement their suggestions.
Today, we live in a data-driven world. During the Spanish Flu pandemic, it was much more difficult to collect data and people did not have access to advanced medical treatment. Today, globalization has certainly increased the rate of the virus’s spread, but we’re also able to collect and share data more quickly.
Here’s how data is being used in the fight against pandemics, now and in the future.
How Can Data Be Used During Pandemics?
We use data in just about every area of life, from hiring to planning bus routes to marketing. In public health, data is crucial during a pandemic. It can be used to track the spread of a virus and its mortality rate. It is also important for tracking patients’ risk factors and responses to different treatments.
Most of the data we collect during a pandemic come from healthcare organizations. Hospitals treating patients affected by a pandemic report their data, which allows epidemiologists and other public health experts to learn more about the virus’s symptoms, spread, and progression.
There are so many ways we use data during a pandemic. Without it, we would lack the tools to make effective public health recommendations and slow the spread of disease in communities around the world.
Health Surveillance: Data Scientists Can Help Identify Trends and Potential Cycles
To most people, the word “surveillance” seems scary and violating. But in the midst of a pandemic, public health surveillance is necessary to reduce the impact of a virus on the global population. Without the ongoing collection and analysis of public health data by data scientists, many more people would be put at risk and the death toll would rise higher.
This is especially true for vulnerable populations. Health surveillance data can help us understand which populations are being most affected during a pandemic and why. That can help health officials provide support and resources necessary for these communities.
Health surveillance also allows scientists to make more accurate predictions about a virus’s potential cycles, outbreaks, and waves. While these predictions aren’t always accurate, they allow people to prepare for the future during times of uncertainty.
Data Can Help Hospitals Prepare for High Patient Volumes
In the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the consequences of hospitals that have been overwhelmed by patients. During a pandemic, medical facilities can run out of space quickly, causing chaos and preventing some patients from getting the care they need. Data can help officials decide when to open temporary field hospitals, but it can also help hospitals themselves prepare for a pandemic.
Some hospitals use pandemic data to train staff for emergency preparedness. They might also test out protocols in advance that could be used during a pandemic. This information is extremely valuable for any healthcare organization.
How to Use Data to Help the Public Stay Informed With Accurate Information
One of data’s most important roles during a pandemic is providing information to the public. People need to have accurate information in order to make good decisions, and they need to trust the source.
Health experts can use data to educate the public via communications initiatives—signage, pamphlets, and other information that can be easily distributed. This helps to promote compliance with pandemic-related mandates or recommendations and reduces community spread.
Data is Neutral—Leveraging it Properly is Important
Data alone won’t change the reality of a pandemic. Data is completely neutral—it has no opinion and only tells us the facts. With that said, we can gain some incredible insights from collecting and analyzing data during a global pandemic like COVID-19.
The other piece of the puzzle is leveraging the information we have. Health officials and governments have to interpret the data correctly and implement guidelines based on those interpretations. It isn’t easy to make decisions during a global crisis, but data can help world leaders make intelligent decisions that save lives.