Contact tracing

The opportunities and obstacles of procuring technology for contact tracing

  • Meg-5 (1).jpg
    Meg Buchanan
  • Sep 02, 2020

When it comes to technology procurement for contact tracing, best practices include finding automation opportunities, sticking to a budget, and taking into account your pubilc health model.

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As of writing, there is still no vaccine for COVID-19. With cases in the U.S. resurging, contact tracing continues to be paramount in saving lives and allowing leaders to open the economy.

Without contact tracing, the rates of infection will outpace ICU capacity and governments may need to once again close down businesses and resume shelter-in-place. Along with the continued loss of life from the virus, the economy will also continue to suffer, resulting in millions of dollars lost every single day.

Using technology to enhance contract tracing is a key element to stopping the virus from continuing to spread but not without a pause for consideration. Having been involved with several technology procurement partnerships with government agencies and beyond, we share those considerations below.

Read more: New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications taps Twilio for contact tracing initiative.

Read on for valuable insight as to the relationship between contact tracing and technology, the obstacles and opportunities we face in connecting them, and why utilizing both today will impact future pandemic preparedness.

Contact tracing and technology: an ideal match

Overcoming fear and misinformation
Despite the benefits of integrating technology to enable quicker contract tracing, there’s a lot of paranoia and misinformation about combining the two. Much of this hesitation has to do with the fear of privacy invasion. And much of that fear is rooted in rumors and hearsay as opposed to fact.

Beyond privacy fears and political concerns, though, the value of technology to enhance, automate, and scale contact tracing is immeasurable.

At the rate to which the virus is spreading, the need for contact tracing is increasing at a scale that quickly outpaces epidemiologists calls 1:1, and as states start to open, they quite literally don’t have the staff to keep up with the demand. Moreso, we can expect the need for COVID-19 contact tracing to continue for the next three years (or 36+ months).

Considerations in procuring technology

Given the pressing necessity to scale contract tracing efforts, moving quickly is crucial to procuring the right technology and partnerships, but not without a few significant considerations.

  • Defining success
    Technology partnerships require a certain amount of negotiation to ensure that both parties feel successful with the terms of agreement. Balancing speed and strategy is key in developing a robust, performance-based contract and building in the time to reach those terms is invaluable to overall satisfaction.

  • Timeline transparency
    Beyond negotiating terms of a contract, building in time for realistic expectations is also paramount. Be very clear about when results can realistically be achieved. Doing so will manage expectations and make the focus more about ‘delivering quality outcomes’ as opposed to just ‘meeting a deadline.’

  • Embracing a more agile workflow
    Another key to success? Failure. Embracing a more agile workflow means time to iterate and perfect the process. Allowing the space to do so results in better outcomes.

  • Securing subject matter expertise
    Finding public health experts to weigh in on the solutions you’re in the process of creating is incredibly important. Unfortunately, these individuals' time is in very short supply right now. Alongside delivering results, confirm you can also get subject matter experts to weigh in and add legitimacy to your outcomes.

Best practices in technology procurement for contact tracing

Through our collaborations with other agencies and organizations, we’ve discovered a few important best practices when scaling contact tracing technology. Consider below when looking to invest in technology procurement.

  • Time is money
    Don’t underestimate the cost of people’s time. Doing the research around the time a task will take and the benefits gained from using technology will result in a greater ROI long-term

  • Find automation opportunities
    Creating experiments that lean into ROI means also finding opportunities where people’s time can be saved. Finding automation opportunities such as sending out digital contact tracing surveys instead of getting information over the phone can be huge in saving time and delivering a greater rate of results.

  • Stick to a budget
    Obtaining technology is a complex process and one that involves careful and thoughtful budgeting. Being conservative with the funds you’ve been granted so you can be agile for the unexpected is important. Because a lot of contact tracing technology efforts are new, so are the obstacles and hurdles that could potentially arise.

  • Consider your public health model
    Your state’s public health model will also determine how fast (or how slow) partnerships can be reached around contact tracing technology results, budgets, and timelines. Researching public health model requirements are crucial in the event you need to budget enough money for several agencies as opposed to just a few.

  • Plan for sustainability
    COVID-19 may be the first global pandemic in modern times but it’s short-sighted to assume it will be the last. The goal in procuring technology and using it to enable better contact tracing should always be long-term. Sustainability here means that the work we're doing today is still relevant and useful as factors such as population growth and climate change impact the world into the future.

A long-term priority

In planning for the current pandemic, it’s critical to treat COVID-19 as an event in a line of similar, unpredictable ones to come. While technology is important in scaling those efforts, doing so thoughtfully will lend to quality results: smarter processes, better use of resources, and most importantly, more lives saved.

Learn more

Learn more about collaborating on contact tracing efforts for your organization.

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Meg Buchanan

Meg Buchanan is a Colorado native, a Kansas Jayhawk, and a proud multi-tasking millennial. As Twilio's Content Marketing Manager, she has more than seven years of experience writing for both agencies and in-house brands on topics from healthcare to hospitality.