Contact tracing has been “in vogue” for quite some time now thanks to COVID-19’s unparalleled impacts on both the healthcare industry and the public’s consciousness of infection. And, like many other medical procedures and processes during this age of remote care, contact tracing can be conducted a number of different ways depending on the facility performing the task. 

Nevertheless, the process is intrinsically tied to data as many other smart healthcare processes are. The more data on patients, conditions, and their behaviors a facility has, the more effectively they can run contact tracing efforts. And the right medical hardware and software is needed to gather this data.

But, before we delve into how healthcare technology such as medical grade computers can aid in the creation of a contact tracing system, let’s come to a common understanding of what the process is and entails.  

Contact Tracing Definition

Contrary to popular belief, contact tracing isn’t a new practice. It’s a decades old method of preventing the spread of infectious disease. The process involves identifying everyone an infected person may have come into contact with so that they may take proper precautions in mitigating the spread of their condition. 

What Does a Contact Tracer Do?

As far as how this process is normally conducted, it isn’t necessarily rocket science. Often, contact tracing requires interviewing the infected and going through their history and records of contact with others. 

In the case of COVID-19, we know that those who are afflicted are considered infectious for 2 weeks after contracting the virus. That said, a public health case investigator will go through the patient’s instances of contact for the last two weeks. Of course, these interviews need to be conducted with patient confidentiality in mind, ensuring others aren’t able to overhear any sensitive information being shared. 

Once all of a patient’s prospective contacts have been identified, the investigator will then need to reach out to all of them and inform them about their increased likelihood of being infected. These calls will also include educating these contacts on how they can self-care and self-quarantine. Finally, should care by a physician or facility be needed, these investigators will also need to triage in order to confirm whether that’s the case. 

How Can Technology Aid in Contact Tracing?

It’s rather apparent that there’s a lot a contact tracer is responsible for doing and with only so much time at their disposal. Unfortunately, despite time being of the essence when dealing with highly infectious disease spread, the contact tracing process allows for anything but timely data. 

According to Changi General Hospital in Singapore, before implementing smarter solutions for their contact tracing programs, the process would often require a team of six members, each spending upwards of 10 hours of tracing for only 5 infected patients. Thankfully, this same hospital was able to cut time spent on COVID-19 contact tracing by 60% by employing the right technology-based solutions. 

So, what do those solutions look like? Can they be applied to your facility? Below are a few tech solutions Changi used to meet their contact tracing needs and a few others you may be able to implement today.

RFID-Powered RTLS

When it comes to tracking movement within the care facility, guesswork and backtracking through interviews aren’t necessary. With RFID-based patient tracking, any given person’s movement patterns and locations can be tracked and recorded. In fact, several hospitals, even before the current pandemic, have enjoyed positive experiences using RFID bracelets and RFID tablets to track patients across their healthcare journeys.

Coupled with Real Time Location Systems, all a doctor would need to do is scan in a patient’s bracelet into their workstation to receive a log of all the different rooms, people, nurses, and physicians the patient came into contact with. From there, these people can be contacted and told to take extra precautions instantly and the doctor can quickly move onto interviewing the patient about their contacts outside of the facility, saving time and improving accuracy in traced contacts.

Algorithms and Machine Learning

Machine learning and algorithm-based tech may not be readily available to all hospitals, but, to those that they are, they can be incredible time savers.

In the previous example of Changi General Hospital, the team was actually able to employ an algorithm that, upon being told a patient was infected, was able to automatically delve into multiple different information systems, including RTLS software, EHRs, and more, to provide a full list of all the people that patient came into contact with. Not only did this save the team time in interviewing, the algorithm also auto-generated a customized contact-tracing report for each COVID-19 patient.  

EHRs and Information Systems

A patient’s EHR is often the first source of information tapped when any question about a patient’s history is asked. The case is no different when it comes to contact tracing. Using EHRs that are loaded with a physician’s notes on a patient, their experiences, and symptoms, a contact tracing investigator can dig up a lot of context with which to jog a patient’s memory of their last two weeks of social interaction. 

Of course, when it comes to EHRs, the way notes are recorded can make a world of difference as to how valuable that data really is. This holds especially true if you plan on using algorithms. Having a standardized means of recording notes both in and out of the EHR can streamline the process of transferring that data onto a contact-tracing report for an automated system.

That said, something like SOAP notes, a standardized note taking process, can make an algorithm’s job of noticing patterns much easier, allowing for more accurate contact tracing. Outside of even an algorithm, a physician or staff member who knows exactly where the information they need is held on a record can perform contact tracing and create a tracing report that much quicker.

In order to make that sort of standardization of note taking able to be implemented without interfering too much in a provider’s work day, a lot of clinical documentation improvement technology such as voice memos and scribing programs can be leveraged.  

Telehealth/Remote Monitoring

Finally, telehealth technology such as a medical cart computer can make reaching out to contacts notably easier. Physicians can speak with contacts over video and provide live tele-triaging of symptoms and determine if an infected person’s contact needs to come in for treatment.

We also mentioned earlier the importance of maintaining patient confidentiality. Thankfully, a battery powered medical PC allows facilities to opt for more lightweight carts that allow for easy transport into secure and private rooms where sensitive conversations can’t be overheard.

When it comes to tracking patient vitals from afar after this triaging is conducted and a patient has been admitted into care, remote patient monitoring hardware and a computer capable of gathering data from them also prove to be essential.  

Learn How to Best Improve Your Facility’s Contact Tracing

Contact tracing can be a very meticulous, time-draining process depending on the patient, the condition being treated, and the availability of medical technology. When picking hardware and software that can aid in making this process less draining, it’s important to keep all of these and other variables in mind as they’ll have sway over which tech solutions will be most effective. For more information on how you can deploy medical grade hardware to aid in your contact tracing efforts, contact a professional from Cybernet today.