MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL. (September 19, 2023) — Today, the University of Minnesota (UMN) School of Public Health, UMN Medical School, UMN Institute for Health Informatics, Minnesota Electronic Health Records Consortium, and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) were awarded $17.5 million to help establish an outbreak response network to support decision makers during public health emergencies. As one of 13 funded partners across the U.S., researchers at UMN and MDH will work alongside the CDC’s Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics (CFA) to support the new national network — the Outbreak Analytics and Disease Modeling Network (OADM).
Grants were awarded in three distinct areas of the model’s development — innovation, integration, and implementation. The UMN and MDH team will focus on the integration phase, meaning that over the next five years, the team will identify the most promising approaches from the innovation pipeline and pilot test them at the state, local, tribal, or territorial level to gauge the success of the technique in practical application by public health decision makers.
“Each of the grantees will help us move the nation forward in our efforts to better prepare and respond to infectious disease outbreaks that threaten our families and our communities,” said Dylan George, director, Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics. “We are committed to working alongside these outstanding partners to achieve our goal of using data and advanced analytics to support decision-makers at every level of government.”
The grant has three co-principal investigators: Eva Enns, associate professor at the UMN School of Public Health (SPH), R. Adams Dudley, a professor in the UMN Medical School, Institute for Health Informatics, and SPH, and Kristin Sweet, manager, Infectious Disease Cross-Cutting Epidemiology, Programs, and Partnerships at MDH.
The UMN and MDH team will work to address several key issues identified during management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first is the challenge of accurately predicting how many people might get sick and how many cases a particular intervention might prevent. A key element in predicting the number of cases requires knowing how many people an individual routinely comes into contact with. The Minnesota team will undertake a survey to ask how many people an individual interacts with each day and how that varies by the type of work they do and the time of year. This data will then be incorporated into a response-ready decision support tool to allow policymakers to quickly understand key benefits, costs, and tradeoffs between different emergency response choices to the next pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a need to understand both localized disease patterns as well as the benefits and costs of different policy choices, like whether to close schools or mandate masks,” says SPH’s Eva Enns. “However, creating the analytic tools needed to support these decisions in the middle of a crisis was a challenge. With this project, we have the opportunity to engage in thoughtful planning and development of modeling and analytic methods to generate clear, tailored, and actionable evidence to support emergency response decision-making in the face of an infectious threat.”
The team will also address the challenge of accurately counting new cases by creating machine-learning algorithms that will learn which symptom clusters come together at different seasons of the year, like flu symptoms becoming more common in winter. The algorithms will also be ready to recognize anomalies or new patterns of symptoms.
The Minnesota Electronic Health Record Consortium (MNEHRC), a partnership of MDH and 11 of the largest health systems and organizations in Minnesota, will be a key data source, collaborator, and implementation partner for the project.
“Particularly early on, we fought COVID with our hands tied. We had no test and an incomplete list of symptoms. We needed ways to gather and analyze clinical data quickly to better understand this novel pathogen. With the systems we plan to design and test, we’ll be able to characterize new clusters of symptoms and have a more complete picture of a novel disease as it emerges,” said Dr. Dudley.
“The Minnesota Department of Health is very grateful for this support from the CDC and excited to leverage the modeling and analytics expertise of our partners at the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Electronic Health Record Consortium as we embark on this important initiative together,” said MDH’s Principal Investigator Kristin Sweet. “We are eager to build on our experience during COVID-19 as we refine and test new and innovative analytic tools that we can deploy during future public health emergencies.”
The CDC established the Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics (CFA) to enable timely, effective decision-making to improve outbreak response using data, modeling, and analytics. To do so, CFA produces models and forecasts to characterize the state of an outbreak and its course, inform public health decision makers on potential consequences of deploying control measures, and support innovation to continuously improve the science of outbreak analytics and modeling.
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About the School of Public Health
The University of Minnesota School of Public Health improves the health and wellbeing of populations and communities around the world by bringing innovative research, learning, and concrete actions to today’s biggest health challenges. We prepare some of the most influential leaders in the field, and partner with health departments, communities, and policymakers to advance health equity for all. Learn more at sph.umn.edu.
About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. We acknowledge that the U of M Medical School, both the Twin Cities campus and Duluth campus, is located on traditional, ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakota and the Ojibwe, and scores of other Indigenous people, and we affirm our commitment to tribal communities and their sovereignty as we seek to improve and strengthen our relations with tribal nations. For more information about the U of M Medical School, please visit med.umn.edu.
About the Minnesota Department of Health
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is the state’s lead public health agency, with a mission to protect, maintain and improve the health of all Minnesotans. MDH is responsible for operating programs that prevent infectious and chronic diseases, while promoting clean water and air, safe food, quality health care, and healthy living.
About the MN EHR Consortium
The mission of the MN EHR Consortium is to improve health by informing policy and practice through data-driven collaboration among members of Minnesota’s health care community. Started in March 2020, the group began meeting with the goal of collaborating to study the epidemiology of chronic conditions affecting Minnesotans. As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the MN EHR Consortium expanded focus to develop a model for aggregating summary electronic health records data to inform near real-time public health needs related to COVID-19. Today, the MN EHR Consortium continues to provide robust information on health equity indicators (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, rurality, language, age, and other important social determinants of health) related to COVID-19 illness to public health professionals, policy-makers and researchers.