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Dallas County HHS Builds on Centralized Public Health Platform

Dallas County Health and Human Services is continuing to enhance the public health platform that it centralized several years ago to monitor and improve the health of county residents and prepare for any future health crises.

A centralized platform from Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) has helped the department better use data and automate processes, and forthcoming developments will build on this improved efficiency.

The availability of digital resources factors into public health, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation for government agencies. In addition, better health data can help inform government decision-making, specifically aiding health agencies’ work to identify and address trends that impact public health, from overdose prevention to air pollution.

According to Dr. Philip Huang, director of DCHHS, the decision to use Salesforce to centralize health operations in a single platform stemmed from the demand at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The database DCHHS had been using had limited capacity, and the number of cases and processes occurring during the height of the pandemic called for a system that could accommodate evolving needs. Since its creation, the platform helped the department automate various processes, and now DCHHS is exploring additional enhancements, such as a social vulnerability index and AI messaging.

According to Huang, the platform has been especially helpful in increasing the efficiency of operations for those doing investigations, modernizing interfaces, and helping the county provide enhanced data visualizations. Although these visualizations initially focused on COVID-19 cases, the focus has been expanding to include other conditions. Huang said the technology will help the department be more prepared for future public health issues.

To implement this platform expansion, DCHHS has been working with Accenture to accommodate the addition of other conditions — starting with monkey pox, it has now been built out for more than 120 other conditions.

DCHHS is currently working to automate the ingestion of electronic case report data from hospitals to streamline the process of sharing information between state and local interfaces.

In addition to simplifying processes for department employees, the platform has also impacted constituents, increasing transparency and awareness of how public health data is shared. Huang underlined that the public health data related to COVID-19 has helped inform trillions of dollars’ worth of public-policy decisions.

Now, the county is working to further enhance the platform’s capabilities by embedding a social vulnerability dashboard.

Huang detailed that DCHHS has been working with the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (PCCI) to accomplish this. This feature could provide information down to the census block level related to demographic makeup of a particular area. The idea is to better understand whether certain issues are more prevalent in certain areas and how that may impact public health.

Better data helps the department make better decisions related to prioritization of investments and informing initiatives. For example, Huang said the county can use data to identify census blocks with high numbers of unvaccinated people and target pop-up vaccination sites or educational programming in those areas.

“We always say that in public health, the first investment sort of needs to be on that data, so you know where the problem is, how big the problem is or what trends are happening,” Huang said. “And without that data, we can’t really do anything.”

The department is also exploring how best to integrate AI messaging capabilities within the platform that could help to enhance messaging and make it more targeted.

This work is still in early stages, but Huang noted that AI technology is continuing to evolve and the department is exploring different tools and applications that could enhance capabilities of the core system.

While policymakers have understood the importance of investment in public health in recent years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Huang noted that this understanding is typical during times of public health crises but often wanes in between. He underlined that continued investment can help prepare public health agencies for future public health emergencies.

*This article first appeared in Government Technology, a sister publication of Industry Insider — Texas.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.