Ontario building massive health database to aid COVID-19 response

Originally Published by The Star
Author: Ted Fraser

The Ontario government’s effort to fight COVID-19 includes a plan to bring artificial intelligence innovators together with health researchers to study a vast new pool of public health information.

That information will include anonymized data from OHIP billings, prescription drug claims, hospital discharges, ER visits and claims for home care and long-term care, which will be gathered in a “secure platform,” according to a Ministry of Health statement released Sunday.

The statement was issued after the Star posed questions about a confidential government document it obtained, outlining plans for the new data platform known as Pandemic Threat Response (PANTHR).

According to the document, the platform could eventually grow to incorporate data from other sources outside the public health system, such as location data from Ontarians’ mobile phones, vehicles and smart devices. However, the document notes that no Canadian province is currently using such data to combat the spread of COVID-19 and says it is an “ongoing policy discussion” for the province, which is weighing the potential benefits and privacy concerns.

A Health Ministry spokesperson told the Star that “no decisions have been made about the collection or use of mobile data to track contacts or any other personal information of citizens.”

The purpose of the new PANTHR platform is to allow artificial intelligence and machine learning experts to analyze a large pool of data in order to:

  • Improve the detection of COVID-19 cases and predict where future outbreaks might occur
  • Identify risk factors for infection among vulnerable populations

Read original article at thestar.com.