Data Summit Takes Industry Partnership to New Heights

During panels, expertise from CDC, Utah, and industry partners sparked lively conversation and idea sharing.

Photo: Agnes Warner, CDC

In June 2023, more than 100 experts in data, technology, epidemiology, and more gathered in Salt Lake City to tackle big modernization challenges and brainstorm solutions to improve health outcomes and preparedness for people living in Utah.

The summit was modeled after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) first-ever Industry Days event in February 2023, which brought diverse experts together in Washington, DC in the name of innovation for public health data. Among all the ideas exchanged during the DC event, one clearly rose above all: local and regional staff need more gatherings. This is how, just a few short months later, the Utah Health Data Innovation Summit sprang to life.

A need for action

The summit kicked off with a lot of enthusiasm and the idea that data innovation requires both perseverance and a spirit of fearlessness—two qualities the people of Utah are well known for.

Angela Dunn at the Utah Health Data Innovation Summit

Salt Lake County's Angela Dunn inspired the diverse audience. Photo: Agnes Warner, CDC

“Some days, data innovation will be painstaking,” said Tracy Gruber, Executive Director of Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services. “Some days, it will feel like speeding through canyon vistas and charging full force ahead.” Building on the analogy, Jordan Mathis of Utah’s Bear River Health Department spoke about the future of data innovation, saying, “We have an opportunity to take a wild ride on a train into the future.”

Angela Dunn, Executive Director of the Salt Lake County Health Department and Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) President, similarly encouraged the crowd. “Every single person here is part of the solution,” she said.

Despite the inherent challenges in data innovation, the participants all showed up ready for the journey ahead.

Bringing industry leaders to CDC

CDC leaders eagerly shared how the agency is moving forward with data modernization, including with the formation of a new Office of Public Health Data, Surveillance, and Technology (OPHDST).

Heather Strosnider, OPHDST’s Senior Advisor for Data Modernization and Surveillance, said, “One of the key principles of this new office is the integration of public health expertise and technology expertise.” As a career epidemiologist, Strosnider underscored the value of collaboration with career technologists in bringing fresh perspectives and cutting-edge ideas to public health.

The summit offered an opportunity to hear from two new OPHDST experts who are doing just that.

After many years innovating for private companies, OPHDST’s Michael Radwin is focused on leveraging human-centered design to develop technology and tools in support of jurisdictions’ data modernization efforts. He advised on strategies public health can adopt from business, such as working from broad to narrow and conducting rapid experiments by building and testing prototypes before making long-term investments.

Jorge Calzada recently joined OPHDST after a long career in the technology sector, centered on artificial intelligence (AI) and customer experience. He received cheers from the audience when he stated his new personal mission is for public health to be able to “turn off the fax machines.” He acknowledged it won’t be easy, but he’s in search of the right platforms to eliminate the “high-burden workloads” too many public health professionals remain weighed down with today.

Additional team members from OPHDST and CDC’s Office of the Chief Information Officer also contributed to the lively discussion.

Lessons from Utah’s experiences

Rachelle Boulton, Informatics Program Manager at Utah’s Division of Population Health, has a personal mission, too—to make sure epidemiologists have the right technology and tools for the job at hand. Ever since dealing with the response to the 2009 swine flu, Boulton recognized that public health needed to adapt and better prepare for the unexpected.

Kirk Benge, Director and Health Officer at Utah’s TriCounty Health Department, illustrates the complexities of public health in Utah.

Kirk Benge, Director and Health Officer at Utah’s TriCounty Health Department, illustrates the complexities of public health in Utah. Photo: Agnes Warner, CDC

Utah spent the next 10 years making innovative changes, such as becoming the first state to implement electronic case reporting (eCR) all the way from a healthcare provider to the state surveillance system. They also developed EpiTrax, an open-source epidemiologic and disease surveillance system that’s built not just on technology but on “good relationships between every level of public health.”

Boulton, along with Utah Chief Enterprise Architect Joe Jackson, shared lessons they learned along the way, such as the need for public health to think bigger and more broadly. They called on the audience to stop creating narrow solutions for specific conditions, to bring in expertise from other domains and, most of all, to shift the thinking from “this doesn’t work because…” to “this would work if…”

What industry brings to the table

 Jamie Wissler, Executive Director of the One Utah Health Collaborative, a community-owned non-profit, noted that innovation is a big key to success. He stressed that, above all, we need to “get all our hearts in it” and work together towards what we know is the right thing.

This sentiment was echoed throughout the summit, such as during a panel on Industry Perspectives that reminded us that lives depend on how well we manage data.

  • Health Catalyst explained how focusing on analytics and managing data through open, cloud-based platforms can help transform care for every patient on the planet.
  • Domo gave a real-world demonstration of an interactive data visualization used to monitor the temperature of vaccines traveling in real time across the country.
  • Qualtrics showed how data about people’s lived experiences—captured at scale and with human centered design—can meaningfully change health outcomes for communities.

These ideas are the seeds of transformation we can bring more widely to public health.

Coming soon

In the wake of the incredible success of the Utah gathering, more states are working with CDC and CDC Foundation to launch their own innovation summits. The next stop is Washington state in mid-August.

By networking and collaborating with colleagues across all sectors and regions, we will continue to learn from each other and find ways to do better. As CDC Foundation’s Brandon Talley said, “The task of modernizing health data systems to fully leverage their potential cannot rest on the shoulders of one entity or one organization. It needs a collaborative effort—a blend of public and private sectors working hand in hand.”

He added, “The depth of experience, resources, and innovative thinking brought forth by each partner creates a dynamic force—driving positive change, empowering communities, and fortifying our collective response to the challenges we face.”

Gatherings like this one pave the road ahead and accelerate our shared journey toward modern, lifesaving public health data.

To learn more about public health’s data modernization efforts, visit the Data Modernization Initiative website.