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When Dr. Amy Abernethy, the Principal Deputy Commissioner & Acting CIO of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), started at the agency last year, she saw an urgent need to modernize FDA's technology and data approaches and capabilities.

The arrival of COVID-19 only further underscored this necessity.

Surescripts CEO Tom Skelton recently sat down with Dr. Abernethy for a fireside chat about the successes and challenges of this year, the imperative data needs of public health agencies like the FDA and the value of public-private partnerships.

“What happened in March is that we realized that we needed to figure out better ways to develop relationships and access data sets that were already being formed—perhaps pre-COVID—but now could inform our COVID activities,” Dr. Abernethy shared.

To solve this problem, the FDA created and publicly shared a prioritized list of questions that the agency wanted to understand. This information resulted in collaborative efforts across industries as data holders, analytic teams, and other people worked together to solve COVID-19 related issues.

Surescripts was one of many organizations eager to help. “One question Surescripts was interested in trying to understand was the patterns of outpatient prescribing within the context of people with COVID-19. [This is] something that [the FDA] really needed to understand – what’s going on out there?”

When asked about the other types of innovations she expects the FDA to stay focused on post-COVID-19, Dr. Abernethy shared, “One of the big areas that I see as persisting is the familiarity of how we can use data to answer many different questions across the agency, as opposed to this classic thinking of data as something that either is acquired in a clinical trial or acquired in something that’s intended to be a substitute for a clinical trial.”

Dr. Abernethy concluded, “I think we have this opportunity now at the agency to learn through COVID.” Here at Surescripts, we can agree that we all have an opportunity to learn from this moment.

Discover how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of healthcare—and how Surescripts is responding to the challenge.