UP experts spot 'alarming errors' in DOH's COVID-19 patient data

Ratziel San Juan - Philstar.com
UP experts spot 'alarming errors' in DOH's COVID-19 patient data
In this Jan. 1, 2020 photo, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III holds a press conference.
The STAR / Boy Santos, file

MANILA, Philippines — The University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team in their policy note released Tuesday pointed out errors and discrepancies in the Department of Health's data on COVID-19 patients.

Comparing official data published only a day apart on April 24 and 25, experts from the state university found that 45 cases had their recorded sex changed (male to female or vice-versa), 75 patients got older or younger by as much as decades, 516 had their residence moved to another city or a "completely imaginary city" (like a barangay or district) and even a patient initially reported dead being reclassified as alive the next day.

Moreover, the health department logged conflicting location data with inconsistencies in the coding of the Philippine Geographic Code (PSGC), which is ironically supposed to provide "uniform standards and classification systems in the generation of government statistics to ensure harmonization and comparability of statistics in the country and at the international level," according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

The UP team discovered overlapping codes used to describe the same region.

Similarly, DOH data reflect different data formats, adopting three different systems on April 14 (MM/DD/YYYY), April 22 (DD-MMM-YYYY) and May 5 (YYYY-MM-DD), respectively.

This "makes it difficult for automated systems of extracting and updating data from case information," read the report dated May 8.

COVID-19 data reporting protocols were also noted to have changed often since March, with certain variables appearing, disappearing and some later reappearing.

These include data reported (COVID-19 case count, PUI count, PUM count, demographics, health information, death information, date of recovery), case number format, and reporting platform (case summary in PDF format, data drop via Google Drive, nCoV Tracker individual case info).

“These lapses may seem small relative to the total size of data contained in the daily updates, but they have significant implications on the reliability of our scientific analyses on COVID-19,” wrote the UP team.

“As we have repeatedly pointed out since Day 1, any analysis is only as good as the data that we have...We do recognize the difficulties in the collection of detailed and timely records of COVID-19 data on a nationwide scale. However, no matter how difficult, these problems need to be addressed at the soonest possible time and should be of top priority.”

Aside from errors contained in the data itself, the team affirmed the observations of netizens that DOH data does not always match those of local government units, citing how the Health department reported 22 deaths and 65 recoveries fewer than the provincial tally of Laguna cases on May 3.

“Almost three months since we had our first confirmed case in the person of a Chinese national on 30 January, we have yet to reconcile differences in numbers between DOH and LGU
sources,” read the report.

The team, however, recognized that the health department "has been open to feedback" and said that "this has been reflected in the improvement in reporting," citing the government's live COVID-19 tracker and habit of reporting cases at a uniform time daily (4:00 p.m.).

“However, there is still room for improving the quality of the data...It is important to make sure that correct data is captured as swiftly as possible to minimize uploading of erroneous and anomalous, if not missing, data.”

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