As another season approaches, it’s unquestionable that communities need to ramp up capacity to test, trace, and isolate to prevent a surge of new COVID-19 cases. While contact tracing is a proven disease control strategy, government agencies can’t do it alone. Universities, healthcare systems, and private organisations also have a role to play.
In a recent Modern Healthcare webinar, Protecting patients and staff through contact tracing, Sheila Curr, VP of healthcare strategy and innovation at TTEC, and Samir Ahmetovic, solutions consultant at Sunquest Information Systems, shared best practices on how schools, employers, and health organisations can bolster their contact tracing efforts. Here are key takeaways from their discussion.
Plan for efficient staffing and data integration
The first hurdle to overcome when building a contact tracing programme is staffing. Organisations need a strategy for onboarding hundreds of new hires and rapidly training them to utilise a contact tracing system that is easily deployed. Another important step is to determine whether to import data, such as contact info and lab results, as well as data from proximity apps and wearable devices, into the contact tracing solution and how to connect with systems at the public health level. This is where an experienced outsourcer with a ready pool of trained associates can provide technology expertise and resources.
Determine the scope of your contact tracing programme
Should university contact tracing programmes include only professors and students? What about janitorial and cafeteria workers? There isn’t a blanket rule for defining the scope of a contact tracing programme. And while many organisations are leaning towards making the programme as expansive as possible, the first step should be to contact local health officials as rules and regulations vary across regions.
Make compliance effortless
Compliant contact tracing and quarantine protocols are a critical part of reducing the infection rate, but convincing people to change their behaviour is difficult. As Richard Thaler, a Nobelist and expert in behavioural economics famously said, “if you want people to do something, make it easy.” An effective approach is to normalise the contact tracing process. For instance, adding contact tracing as a well-defined process to a university’s student wellness programme from testing to outbound calls to conducting regular check-ins, etc. makes it less jarring and invasive. Making the contact tracing process as effortless as possible is key.
Provide options on how people can be contacted
Advances in automation and wearable technologies are making it easier to speed up and scale contact tracing efforts. Location and proximity-based apps, such as the COVIDSafe app for instance, alert users when they have come into close proximity with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, although the apps have not been widely adopted yet. Regardless of which contact tracing solution is utilised, it’s important to provide people with options on how they would like to be contacted and follow up in a regular cadence to drive success.
Be transparent about data privacy
Organisations need to be transparent about how a contact tracing programme collects, uses, and keeps people’s data safe and secure. Employers and universities should consult their local health department to understand privacy obligations and protocols. Explain to students, employees, and patients how their personal information will remain private and be proactive in warning users about potential fraudsters preying on vulnerable users with fake requests for information.
Remember to be human
Whether contact tracing is being conducted through a digital format or an agent is making an outbound call, remember the human side of the process. In addition to technical training, the importance of strong interpersonal skills cannot be overstated. This includes understanding how the individual feels and making sure he or she is heard throughout the process. A best practice is to recruit agents with experience in crisis counseling in addition to making it part of the training curriculum.
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Contact tracing has been shown to be incredibly effective, and gaining people’s trust and compliance are crucial to making that happen. From a people, process, and technology perspective, contact tracing efforts must be as frictionless and non-invasive as possible. Data security is also a critical factor. The bottom line is that the organisations that keep their contact tracing efforts centered on people’s needs will see the most success.