Faulty State Data Prompts Change In Tulsa Health Department COVID-19 Hospital Reporting, THD Says

Oct 16, 2020

(This story was updated at 5:25 p.m. on Fri., Oct. 16, to add a response from Derek Pate, Director of the Center for Health Statistics at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.)

The Tulsa Health Department said Thursday it would be making changes to the way it reports COVID-19 hospitalizations after determining the Oklahoma State Department of Health data it previously relied on was inaccurate.

Leanne Stephens, THD Communications Director, said the issue stems from incorrect data in the state system known as the Public Health Investigation and Disease Detection of Oklahoma database, or PHIDDO.

"Unfortunately,  we are not able to provide the true number of Tulsa County residents currently hospitalized with COVID-19, because that information comes from PHIDDO which we determined is missing or has delayed hospital discharge data," Stephens said Thursday, noting the hospitalization number being reported on the THD website at the time -- 314 -- was incorrect due to these discrepancies. The true figure at the time was 184, according to Adam Paluka, deputy chief of public affairs at the Emergency Medical Services Authority.

In a statement, THD said Thursday they plan to launch an improved and accurate hospitalizations display shortly.

"Next week, in partnership with the Regional Medical Response System, we will update the information displayed in this panel to show a more descriptive and accurate representation of COVID-19 positive patients currently being treated in Tulsa County hospitals along with hospital capacity," the statement reads. "This will provide additional transparency for residents and stakeholders, and will include historical data as well."

THD Director Dr. Bruce Dart noted the differences during a Tuesday press conference.

"We dug into that as well, because this is a huge discrepancy. Why is this happening?" Dart said, going onto explain the PHIDDO issue.

"It's a huge gap, and it's not reflective of what the situation actually is," Dart said.

For now, the THD COVID-19 dashboard is displaying what the department says is an accurate daily count of Tulsa County residents hospitalized with COVID-19. 

Reached Thursday afternoon, L. Anthony Triana of the public relations firm Saxum, which is being contracted to handle COVID-related media inquiries for the state health department, said he would pass along Public Radio Tulsa's questions about the PHIDDO system. This story will be updated if any information is provided.

(Update: Public Radio Tulsa received the following response from Derek Pate, Director of the Center for Health Statistics at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, after publication.)

"Pulling currently hospitalized numbers out of PHIDDO is not possible (and not an 'issue') because the system was not designed to do that.

OSDH has a wide array of data that will eventually be used in analyses to describe the pandemic and further inform us/Oklahoma/scientific community (Vital Records, Oklahoma Violent Death Reporting System, BRFSS, Hospital Discharge … ) but each of them were designed for a specific purpose, each have their limitations, and appropriate use/s.  This being said, sometimes data/systems can be used in novel ways but sometimes it is not appropriate to do so (as was seen by attempting to use PHIDDO to describe the currently hospitalized population)."