CDC taps School of Nursing informaticist to analyze nation’s PPE supply

Kelly Aldrich leaning against a railing at the Wond'ry

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding research led by Kelly Aldrich, DNP, FHIMSS, associate professor of nursing informatics, to analyze daily hospital personal protective equipment on-hand inventory to measure trends, patterns or statistically significant changes in PPE supply in the nation’s nearly 7,000 U.S. hospitals. The project will support the CDC’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, which is dedicated to generating new knowledge in occupational safety and health.

Aldrich is working with four second-year data science students under the supervision of Jesse Spencer-Smith, PhD, chief data scientist of Vanderbilt’s Data Science Institute, and Dana Zhang,MS’18, PhD’18,  Vanderbilt School of Engineering professor of computer science and electrical engineering, to leverage artificial intelligence and data modeling for this large-scale analysis and reporting effort.

“We’re conducting data analysis on a medical organization’s average consumption rates to figure out if they have enough PPE and other essential items to provide for their teams,” Aldrich said. “In analyzing the data with advanced analytics, we will be able to find patterns that were not seen before. I think because of that, it will have a true impact on supply chain management for the country.”

“By working the Data Science Institute to support this important work, Dr. Aldrich has deepened and extended the research while providing a meaningful opportunity for our team to put their expertise to use,” Spencer-Smith said. “Our faculty and graduate students formed a team that is enabling this analysis to go from simple data points to insights that can shape the country’s future responses to health care events.”

The necessity of this effort was brought to light by pandemic-related lack of access to PPE due to supply shortages or prohibitive costs. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization called on industry and governments to boost PPE manufacturing with a warning of “severe and mounting disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment—caused by rising demand, panic buying, hoarding and misuse.”

The WHO was right. Months into the pandemic, PPE shortages among hospitals, nursing homes and medical practices across the U.S. put health care providers and patients at heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19. Two goals of Aldrich’s project are to bring transparency to PPE supply across the country and to eliminate the common problem of one hospital having a PPE surplus while neighboring hospitals scramble.

The project is a follow up to a 2020 project Aldrich led with the Center for Medical Interoperability, a national nonprofit working to integrate health care technologies for information exchange, and the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, part of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The TOGETHER for PPE project phase connected 78 hospitals in nine federal Health and Human Services’ regions. Thousands of real-time data points allowed for predictive modeling and other data analysis which helped hospitals and the CDC examine exactly what PPE they had on hand, which enabled hospitals to plan and develop solutions that kept caregivers and hospital patients safe. A paper on the project phase, “Lessons Learned from the Development and Demonstration of a PPE Inventory Monitoring System for U.S. Hospitals,” was published in the journal Health Security on Nov. 9.

Aldrich’s trans-institutional project will restart and amplify the TOGETHER for PPE effort. The data collected by Aldrich’s team in 2021 will focus on N95 face masks, surgical face masks and face shields.

“Collaboration with the Data Science Institute in data modeling and data analysis with predictive and artificial intelligence models are of high priority,” said Aldrich, also the director of Vanderbilt’s new Nursing Informatics Innovation Lab within the Vanderbilt School of Nursing and the chief clinical transformation officer for the Center for Medical Interoperability. “This collaboration is a terrific example of bringing researchers together with diverse areas of expertise and distinct backgrounds to discover new information. We are excited about the progress to date.”

By Aran Sullivan

Photo: John Russell