The Contact Tracing Data Fix is One API Away

On April 9, 2020 I published this blog post which illustrated that, in the fight to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, two very important things were becoming clear.

First, fighting pandemics depends on data that’s fast, complete, and accurate.

Second, public health emergencies demand understanding people.

As a country, gaps in person data left us exposed. We were losing valuable time:

  • People were not being notified of their test results because contact information is missing from drive through test results[1]
  • Health departments were overwhelmed; teams were making phone calls to track down missing data and manually fix duplicate person records[2]
  • Commercial labs were missing as much as 40% of demographic information[1]
  • Patients who tested positive were not being notified[1]
  • Health systems struggled to predict near-term demand due to incomplete data[1]

Hopeful

As an expert in health care person data management, I was hopeful. We can solve these problems; technology is readily available to address this type of information sharing and states were hiring armies of contact tracers. 

66 Days Later: Person Data Issues Slow Tracing

This weekend, my local newspaper, The Seattle Times, ran a front-page article about delays and challenges in contact tracing efforts, due to lack of accurate data. The struggle in Washington echoes conversations we’ve had with health agencies around the country. By its nature, contract tracing is data intensive and the sharing of data results in quality issues including duplication. As a result, contact tracers are unable to make contact within 48 hours of a positive test result, leaving people who’ve tested positive and those they’ve been in contact with vulnerable. While public health teams are rapidly implementing contact tracing systems and training teams, data quality is a challenge:

  • Incomplete demographic information and contact data prevents follow-up on new positive and negative test results. In Washington, more than 40% of phone numbers and other key information is missing, due in part to gaps in reporting from laboratories and illegible handwriting, as reported in the Seattle Times (June 14, 2020).
  • Lab companies and health systems often use different software to capture patient data, this creates a challenge when trying to connect a COVID-19 lab result with a person’s medical record.
  • Newly identified contacts become duplicated because records contain limited information, this prohibits records from matching up in the contact tracing application.

This is Not a New Problem

Health care organizations have struggled with this type of data exchange or interoperability for decades. They’ve come to rely on a centralized master person index or data management layer that improves the quality of person data and enables interconnectivity between many different data sources.

It’s Easier to Fix than you Might Think

Traditionally, this data management layer has been complex and time intensive to deploy, requiring data owners from across an organization agree on data definitions. Instead, rapidly deployable web services that address these exact data quality and matching problems are available. Working with one state department of health, Verato added phone numbers to 80% of contacts that were missing a phone number.

As a cloud-based data management solution for contact tracing, Verato offers straightforward ways to:

  1. Link public health data across systems and teams that suddenly need to be coordinated
  2. Connect person records with one another automatically, without manual effort
  3. Augment data for contact tracing with demographic information like phone number and address

We’re ready to help with technology for faster contact tracing in fighting the spread of COVID-19. To learn how we can help, contact us now.