University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

University of Minnesota COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project

Researchers use hospitalization data from all 50 U.S. states to help quantify the impact of COVID-19 on local hospital systems, forecast future needs, and track changes in disease severity.

Call to Action

In March 2020, as COVID-19 was spreading across the United States, one of the most significant threats to being able to care for the sickest patients was the capacity of the nation’s hospital systems. Public health officials in every state were scrambling for data to use in models that would help them predict and prepare for “the surge”—the steep and sudden increase in cases they knew was coming. While there were credible websites consolidating and reporting data on the daily number of cases and deaths in each state, there was not a credible site providing a daily state-by-state view on the number of hospitalizations.

This information gap drove researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management to launch the COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project. Since then, two of the school’s research centers—the Medical Industry Leadership Institute, a 2019 Innovations That Inspire highlighted selection, and the Management Information Systems Research Center—have been collecting and tracking daily hospitalization data from each state’s Department of Health and making the data publicly available.

Tracking daily hospitalization data is critically important in quantifying the current impact on local hospital systems, modeling and forecasting future utilization needs, and tracking the rate of change in disease severity. These data points and trends can help public health officials and hospital leaders promote the adoption of best practices, such as optimum hospital capacity, and sharing of resources, such as ventilators. Presenting these data in an accessible manner for individuals, media outlets, and other organizations is key to keeping the public informed about the spread of the virus and its impact on hospitals.

Description

This project was launched by sending an email to the communications director of each state’s health department team on March 26, 2020. This email described the project and its purpose and requested that the departments publicly report information on hospitalizations and intensive care unit (ICU) utilization.

Early on, only 23 states made hospitalization data publicly available; the Carlson team captured these daily data in the project database. Today, all 50 states and the District of Columbia make data available. Research associates access each state’s Department of Health website daily and enter the hospitalization data into an online database. Data collected include cumulative COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions, current COVID-19 patient hospitalizations and ICU admissions, ventilator use, and any other relevant data the state reports. Additional data may include a breakdown of hospitalizations by age, race, and ethnicity; capacity of state hospitals; or data by counties or regions within a state.

All data are adjusted for states’ populations using estimates from the 2018 American Community Survey published by the U.S. Census Bureau. Additionally, each state’s total hospital bed capacity is calculated based on data from the 2018 American Hospital Association Survey, provided by the Harvard Global Health Institute. Quality control procedures are in place to confirm the accuracy of the data, which get exported to a publicly accessible visual dashboard the team built to present the data in several configurations ranging from interactive charts to maps. The project website also provides historical data, analysis, trend reports, and more.

Impact

The impact of the COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project has been far-reaching. Initial findings by the project team were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), JAMA Internal Medicine, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Health Affairs, and Health Management Policy & Innovation.

The project’s data and findings have been cited by dozens of media outlets, including CNN, NPR, U.S. News & World Report, Vox, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. This media exposure has extended the data’s impact beyond the academic community and viewers of the online dashboard. Coverage of the JAMA Internal Medicine paper titled “Assessment of COVID-19 Hospitalizations by Race/Ethnicity in 12 States” resulted in much-needed public awareness of the considerable disparities of COVID-19 prevalence across racial and ethnic subgroups. Coverage of “Association of Stay-at-Home Orders With COVID-19 Hospitalizations in 4 States” in JAMA offered objective data on the impact that stay-at-home efforts had on the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Project data continue to be analyzed and interpreted to offer objective insight to the nation’s management of this public health crisis. Leading into the autumn 2020 season, data showed a trend that hospitalizations were rising, which aligned with health experts’ concerns regarding an autumn surge of COVID-19 cases. The project team is collaborating with public health experts across the country and proactively sharing insights to help mitigate the impact of the next wave of the pandemic.

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