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Tech-Driven Approaches to Flatten The Curve

  • Viewpoint
  • By Chimezie Emewulu (Seamfix)
  • 4 May 2020

Seamfix explores the ways in which data capture and management systems can support global health

The world has been hit hard by the emergence of COVID-19. As the virus continues to spread at an alarming rate, we ask ourselves: ‘what more can technology do to reduce the spread of the virus?’ 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has continually underlined the importance of ‘flattening the curve’, calling on countries across the world to impose public health measures. The curve refers to the projected number of people that will be infected by the virus and ‘flattening’ the curve would mean slowing the rate of person to person infection.

Technology is doing a lot already in the global fight against the pandemic, but we believe there is more to be done. For one, a digital data capture and management system can improve oversight and detect cases promptly; thus providing an effective response for patient isolation and management, contact tracing, identification of transmission chains, rapid diagnosis, and so much more.

Looking at patterns from previously successful combat tactics in cases of epidemics, here are four ways a digital data capture and management system could work to flatten the curve and combat the spread of coronavirus.

Digital data capture and documentation at entry and exit points

There is already an ongoing, strict process at gated estates, apartment buildings, and office blocks, where visitors input their textual proof of identity in a logbook before they enter and after they leave. However, only a few can boast of doing this the digital way; the rest still use paper-based visitor logbooks. But during the coronavirus pandemic, surface touch should be avoided, and the risk of cross-contamination has added to the argument in favor of a digitized system that requires only one handler.

With a digitized logbook, a designated security guard posted at the entry/exit gate can use a smartphone to capture visitor details. Information can be textual, such as name, address, phone number, etc., and visual, in the form of a live image capture of the visitor. The data can immediately be moved to a back-end system monitored by a designated admin, creating a standard digital database with unlimited space for archived visitor data.

Contact tracing

Contact tracing is a key public health tool during a pandemic. This involves tracing patients’ movements to identify who they came into contact with and when. Right now, contact tracing involves governments appealing to people to self-report contact with confirmed cases.

To do this effectively, there must be proper prior documentation. Paper-based contact tracing, besides encouraging surface touch, is sure to include erroneous data and promises a tiresome process of retracing. 

Digital data capture and management systems, however, can improve data completeness and enhance storage, accuracy, and data organization. They allow for rapid identification of patients’ movements and understanding of the transmission chain in that particular location. Digital systems also improve data exchange, as the data can be easily downloaded and exported to government bodies, like the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

Clinical trials documentation

To effectively and efficiently carry out a nationwide clinical trial, a data capture and management system is a necessity. Such systems allow for a digital and mobile approach to clinical trials, using web-based forms to facilitate the quick reporting of data and trends, supporting rapid decision making. Clinical staff can record daily reports, collect location-based results, export data for analysis, and visually document hypotheses. 

It could also help create a centralized cloud-based healthcare data network to document volunteers, experiments, observations, causes and effects, vaccine monitoring, and real-time analysis of implemented measures and administered trial drugs during clinical research.

And it could even help create a data-sharing system, whereby data can be passed, in real-time, between hospitals and larger bodies like the CDC for proper documentation, following strict data privacy and pre-set access control policies. The digital approach will mitigate against data quality oversight because data anomalies will be discovered faster. 

Remote monitoring of self-isolated individuals

The flexibility of a digital data capture and management system allows for remote monitoring of individuals in self-isolation. Healthcare providers share a link to a monitoring form which the individual can access on a smartphone or any mobile device. In this form, the individual can input their symptoms each day until the isolation period is over.

Patients’ data is made visible to health providers so they can monitor their patients’ health without putting themselves at risk. Data is also location-based, so it is easy to flag when isolated individuals have moved from their designated locations.

What all this means for data privacy

Of course, it is important to be wary of the impact of these technologies on data privacy, because sharing sensitive information about individuals and their contacts is required for any of this to work.

This is where GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) and other regulatory frameworks need to come in. Anyone willing to implement these technologies must be subject to the oversight of robust regulatory frameworks that protect users and safeguard privacy. This could be in the form of enforcing tight Access Control Management and end-to-end encryption so that only authorized admins can read or collect the data.

Since this is also on a national scale, we advise that governments should take it upon themselves to enforce oversight and regulation for companies that build these solutions and clients who implement them so that there is complete data security at every stage of the data’s life cycle (at-rest or in-transit).

Given the ways we know technology can help to flatten the curve, Seamfix believes that every country should be using a Data Capture and Management System with the demonstrated potential to improve the quality of data collection, surveillance, analysis, and secure data transport.

It is important to note that coronavirus is rapidly evolving. Stay informed, maintain good hand and respiratory hygiene, self-isolate if you’re unsure, report yourself if your symptoms are suggestive, don’t panic, and stay safe.