Reliable, secure data exchange is at the heart of public health. As data volume, needs and uses continue to expand, the APHL Informatics Messaging Services (AIMS) platform has facilitated innovative ways to connect public health laboratories, agencies, clinical partners and other key players in public health.
In May 2022, those efforts took a large step forward with the launch of Datapult, a wholly owned subsidiary of APHL that offers test reporting, informatics services and more through the AIMS platform. “This allows APHL to focus on its nonprofit, grant-driven public health work, while Datapult can pursue independent projects in support of that same public health mission,” said Patina Zarcone, MPH, director of Datapult.
Datapult is able to take a broad view of public health data handling and analysis needs. “We can marry a ‘for public health, by public health’ approach with a customer-driven product development process,” said Datapult Product Manager Brian Garrett. The result is a suite of products that are designed specifically with the public health user in mind.
Datapult’s electronic laboratory reporting (ELR) service ramped up to handle COVID-19 test results and is now expanding to include all nationally notifiable diseases and reportable conditions.
Building on an established foundation of modernized health data reporting, the system has already proven its ability to accommodate new test results in support of rapid public health responses. “When the mpox epidemic started, we had already streamlined the validation process for the needed message type,” said Millie Malai, MPH, Datapult’s technical project manager. “Customers could start sending testing data as soon as they were ready.”
Datapult is also supporting the collection of public health data from a new source: over the counter COVID-19 tests.
As the majority of COVID-19 testing has shifted out of clinics and into people’s homes, APHL and the Datapult team were already working on strategies to enable individuals to report at-home test results. In February, APHL was awarded a contract from the National Institutes of Health to use Datapult to collect over the counter COVID test results and report them to local, state and federal public health agencies.
“It’s been very successful, with over a million records transmitted since the first onboarding went live in May 2022,” Malai said. The team has also been able to implement several requested enhancements in the first year, such as data filtering and tagging capabilities.
Datapult now also hosts the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bioinformatic analysis pipeline developed by New York’s Wadsworth Center.
“Access to bioinformatics pipelines that have public health utility continues to be a challenge,” said Christin Hanigan, PhD, APHL’s manager of Advanced Molecular Detection. “Datapult hosting the Wadsworth pipeline allows all public health laboratories access to the only tuberculosis pipeline that has been clinically validated for drug resistance testing.”
Following a successful pilot on the AIMS platform, Datapult worked with the Wadsworth Center to transition, test and deploy the next-generation sequencing-based TB pipeline, launched in January 2023.
As an evolution of these services, Datapult users can subscribe to a suite of next-generation sequencing solutions that will enable access to a range of bioinformatics tools and services and can be tailored based on a laboratory’s needs, staffing and bioinformatics resources.
“We worked with APHL, different interest groups and laboratory bioinformaticists to really understand the critical requirements as well as the pain points in current NGS workflows,” said Garrett, “from getting the samples to processing the data and making it usable.” The resulting suite of products will provide guided analysis capabilities selected for public health use and run on a trusted platform.
Datapult can reinvest generated revenue back into the platform for research and development of new services. Importantly, the model allows the team to anticipate user needs and begin to spin up tools more quickly than could occur in a grant-driven setting, Zarcone said.
And with that ability, they are always looking for new ideas for useful tools and services. “We have the capacity and skill to build things that our public health laboratories need,” she said. “That is our commitment to public health.”