A second important use of technology is to scale contact tracing itself. Epidemiologists, who are in increasingly high demand, need to focus their expertise on the most impactful tasks, like strategic planning or addressing complex cases or outbreaks.
A solution here is to use a well established model from the private sector and other government agencies like Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act: the contact center.
With contact centers, public health agencies can quickly enable agents with the training and tooling to be able to handle routine outreach and tracing.
The key word is quickly—the pace of innovation needed during a dynamic outbreak like COVID-19 is unrelenting. Agencies need the ability to create flexible solutions that allow for changes in a few weeks, not months. A two-week lag can now quite literally mean life or death.
There are two major workstreams to create a nimble contact center:
The infrastructure. Choosing a cloud-based platform provides flexibility to build workflows that can evolve with the changing environment, to integrate with the right patient information systems, to scale quickly, and to easily enable remote tracers. This work can be hastened through implementation partners.
Ease of use. The contact center must be intuitive and easy to use so newly-hired contact tracers can quickly become effective and have the right tools and datasets at their fingertips.
With the tracing workforce scaled and active, the infrastructure accomplishes a critical aspect of scaling: it centralizes investigation data.
Instead of individual epidemiologists tracking data and information on paper and disparate spreadsheets, armies of contact tracers are now able to effectively input data (or empower patients to self-input data) into a centralized repository to allow for the analysis and modeling that creates visibility into potential outbreaks.
This results in public health decisions, like sheltering in place, that are surgical, as opposed to blanket orders, enabling health officials to manage and ideally decrease the spread while empowering government leaders to safely reopen portions of the economy.