How PHO analyzes and shares COVID-19 data to inform public health decisions


27 Jan 2022

We have long understood the importance of public health information, however since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic it has become more critical than ever. Working closely with our partners, Public Health Ontario (PHO), strives to help Ontarians live healthier lives by connecting public health practitioners, front-line health care workers and researchers to the best scientific and technical information. This is especially critical during public health emergencies.

At PHO, we use our secure information systems to generate timely, relevant and reliable data, knowledge and tools for our stakeholders. We help to support effective and responsive public health action, promote health and prevent and manage public health incidents. During the pandemic, the analyses that PHO produced has helped support and impact public health action and interventions across Ontario.

How PHO manages COVID-19 information

The Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA), is a provincial statute that provides regulations for the organization and delivery of public health information and services, prevention of the spread of disease, and the promotion and protection of the health of all Ontarians. Under the HPPA, public health units (PHUs) have a duty to report cases (or suspected cases) of a disease of public health significance to the Ministry of Health (MoH).

COVID-19 is a disease of public health significance in Ontario. Previously, diseases of public health significance were all reported through the integrated Public Health Information System (iPHIS), but with the demands of COVID-19, a new system to more efficiently capture the required information was developed. The provincial Case and Contact Management (CCM) system is a dynamic reporting system used for this purpose and electronically links COVID-19 lab results with the COVID-19 case information reported by the PHUs. Currently it is used for the reporting and surveillance of COVID-19 and for the reporting of Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFIs) for COVID-19 immunizations.

PHO regularly extracts data from CCM, and securely analyzes, organizes and validates it. Our COVID-19 subject matter experts include analysts, epidemiologists, nurses, physicians, scientists and public health information technology professionals. These subject matter experts conduct daily analyses to ensure its accuracy and any inconsistencies are flagged to the necessary PHU for follow up. The final data is used to conduct surveillance for the province and provide scientific and technical advice to the MoH, local PHUs, and other health system partners to support provincial COVID-19 response efforts, and inform effective decision making at both the provincial and national levels.

Privacy Protection

In order to fulfil our legislated responsibilities of providing scientific and technical advice and support to clients working in government, public health, health care and related sectors, PHO collects personal health information (PHI) from health care providers and organizations as well as public health and government agencies. This information is protected under Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004 (PHIPA), which governs the manner in which PHI is collected, used and disclosed within the health sector. As a health information custodian under PHIPA, PHO must treat all of the personal health information in its custody and control (including COVID-19 data) in accordance with PHIPA.

All of our work strictly follows the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion Act (OAHPPA) which enables PHO to protect and promote the health of all Ontarians. Through the OAHPPA we contribute to efforts to reduce health inequities and support those working across health sectors to protect and improve the health of Ontarians.

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Published 27 Jan 2022