Medical professionals and researchers across the globe are working tirelessly to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. To effectively fight the pandemic, providers need to be able to predict patient volumes, given the scarcity of supplies among other factors that impact care today. That requires technology that can seamlessly integrate multiple data sources and quickly produce actionable insights.
HCA Healthcare, one of the largest healthcare providers in the U.S., is an organization with a mission strongly rooted in the care of people and betterment of their livelihoods. Dr. Edmund Jackson, Chief Data Officer at HCA Healthcare, and his team are focused on giving HCA Healthcare’s caregivers and leaders, and the nation at large, accurate visibility into the spread of the virus.
“In the beginning of the outbreak, it was apparent there was no national portal in the U.S. that offered a nationwide perspective into the scope and spread of COVID-19,” says Dr. Edmund Jackson. “There were—and still are—so many unanswered questions about this virus. We knew we needed to create a central repository of reliable information to help researchers and healthcare providers move closer to overcoming the pandemic.”
HCA Healthcare sought to understand community outbreaks of the virus in a deeper and more proactive way and make that information accessible to its own hospitals, as well as public health officials, businesses, and consumers. This would better inform decisions surrounding safe reopenings, the impact of public policy decisions such as mask mandates, and more.
Though HCA Healthcare had visibility through its hospitals in 20 states across the U.S, the company wanted to better capture and communicate the spread of the virus across the entire country. At the time of project launch, healthcare providers lacked a uniform set of guidelines and methodologies to report to track the spread. This also meant that healthcare providers were largely on their own when it came to understanding how the national spread of the virus would impact their own local hospitals and communities.
“Rapid, reliable access to data is critical,” says Dr. Jackson. “We needed to improve how people could capture and share data, which was proving to be a challenge. We decided to build a centralized data portal called the National Response Portal (NRP) for healthcare providers.” To achieve its goal, HCA Healthcare worked closely with technology services provider SADA and Google Cloud.
Racing for a solution
While using available, proven technologies gave HCA Healthcare and SADA a head start with the portal, the complexity of bringing everything together was an entirely different story. Scale was one of the biggest infrastructure challenges, as HCA and SADA needed to ensure that the portal was powerful enough to handle more than one million visitors at once, often resulting in requests for tens of thousands of visualizations at any moment.
“We needed to push as much of the compute as possible out to end users’ devices, and the data they used had to be located as close to their machines as possible,” says Michael Ames, Senior Director of Healthcare and Life Sciences at SADA. “We use Google’s content delivery network and just-in-time data loading along with client-side rendering to achieve worldwide access with almost infinite scalability.”
This required creative and experienced problem solving from the HCA Healthcare and SADA teams, particularly those experienced in making applications scale. In addition, given the types of data and uses of the portal, having strong security and identity and access management (IAM) policies were central to their efforts and had to be addressed without sacrificing interoperability and ease of access.