Lawmakers ask GAO to examine predictive modeling for infectious disease tracking

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Congressional leaders want the GAO to study how predictive modeling can improve response to outbreaks like the Zika virus.

Lawmakers are asking the Government Accountability Office to take a closer look at how federal agencies use predictive modeling to track public health threats.

Three members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called on the watchdog agency to review the ways in which the government has used predictive modeling to plan for and infectious outbreaks such as Zika, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.

In a letter (PDF) to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, several representatives highlighted findings from a GAO report (PDF) released earlier this year that found public health researchers lack timely and accurate data to improve predictive models and a systematic way to integrate modeling into outbreak response. The letter came from Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

RELATED: Bipartisan committee urges GAO to study the growing threat of superbugs

The same three representatives sent a letter to the GAO asking it to study how the country can better respond to drug-resistant bacteria.

Some of the specific questions the Congressional leaders want answered include:

  • Whether federal agencies have used predictive modeling to inform planning around emerging infectious diseases?
  • How federal agencies have used models to inform regulatory decisions surrounding infectious disease outbreaks?
  • What funding has been made available for infectious disease predictive modeling?
  • If and how federal agencies are validating model predictions?

RELATED: DHS issues data challenge to identify the next infectious outbreak in real time

The Department of Homeland Security recently issued a challenge to data scientists last month to create an early warning system that draws on real-time data sources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also been looking for ways to improve data collection capabilities by accessing data buried in EHRs and broader use of cloud-based platforms that can easily disseminate information.

Researchers have pointed to EHRs as an untapped public health resource. Earlier this year, a team at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, along with NYU School of Medicine’s Department of Population Health, built an EHR surveillance tool that could track chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.