Why We Are Losing the War Against COVID-19 on the Data Front and How to Reverse the Situation

  • Prieto-Merino D
  • Bebiano Da Providencia E Costa R
  • Bacallao Gallestey J
  • et al.
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With over 117 million COVID-19–positive cases declared and the death count approaching 3 million, we would expect that the highly digitalized health systems of high-income countries would have collected, processed, and analyzed large quantities of clinical data from patients with COVID-19. Those data should have served to answer important clinical questions such as: what are the risk factors for becoming infected? What are good clinical variables to predict prognosis? What kinds of patients are more likely to survive mechanical ventilation? Are there clinical subphenotypes of the disease? All these, and many more, are crucial questions to improve our clinical strategies against the epidemic and save as many lives as possible. One might assume that in the era of big data and machine learning, there would be an army of scientists crunching petabytes of clinical data to answer these questions. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Our health systems have proven to be completely unprepared to generate, in a timely manner, a flow of clinical data that could feed these analyses. Despite gigabytes of data being generated every day, the vast quantity is locked in secure hospital data servers and is not being made available for analysis. Routinely collected clinical data are, by and large, regarded as a tool to inform decisions about individual patients, and not as a key resource to answer clinical questions through statistical analysis. The initiatives to extract COVID-19 clinical data are often promoted by private groups of individuals and not by health systems, and are uncoordinated and inefficient. The consequence is that we have more clinical data on COVID-19 than on any other epidemic in history, but we have failed to analyze this information quickly enough to make a difference. In this viewpoint, we expose this situation and suggest concrete ideas that health systems could implement to dynamically analyze their routine clinical data, becoming learning health systems and reversing the current situation.




Prieto-Merino, D., Bebiano Da Providencia E Costa, R., Bacallao Gallestey, J., Sofat, R., Chung, S.-C., & Potts, H. (2021). Why We Are Losing the War Against COVID-19 on the Data Front and How to Reverse the Situation. JMIRx Med, 2(2), e20617. https://doi.org/10.2196/20617

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