How do you track an invisible enemy? The spread of the novel coronavirus has put modern public health surveillance systems to the test, proving the importance of this data for streamlining healthcare delivery and maintaining community well-being. Let’s examine the utility of health surveillance as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Identifying Vulnerable Populations
The World Health Organization (WHO) advocates for global surveillance to trace the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve. According to the WHO, global surveillance has four key objectives:
- “to monitor trends of the disease where human to human transmission occurs;
- rapidly detect new cases in countries where the virus is not circulating;
- provide epidemiological information to conduct risk assessments at the national, regional and global level; and
- provide epidemiological information to guide preparedness and response measures.”
The keywords here are “trends” and “risk assessments.” To forecast the impact of the coronavirus on a given population, researchers must first understand how the virus moves through that community. And, to accomplish this, advanced technology must collect data on the spread of cases.
Tech giants Apple and Google have developed a system for digital contract tracking, which allows iOS and Android devices to detect contact with another smart device. The system uses Bluetooth to register contact within a range of 15 feet, a process conducted through a specific opt-in app. This overall data can only be viewed by public health officials, who can apply the data to their research and identify at-risk individuals. Through pooling this data, researchers can better understand which communities are at risk, and how quickly the disease is spreading through their ranks.
Health surveillance is not just a preemptive measure; by identifying at-risk populations, healthcare providers become better-equipped to assist COVID-positive individuals. The depletion of necessary resources has made effective treatment difficult for hospitals and health institutions around the world. With these shortages running rampant, it’s difficult to estimate how many masks, ventilators, and latex gloves an institution needs. This is where health surveillance benefits impacted communities.
Through the assessment of high-risk communities, healthcare professionals can identify exposure probabilities and enforce self-quarantine measures. Should a community see a spike in positive cases, providers can make arguments for the delivery of more resources, especially if those cases are severe. The ability to categorize individuals based on the risk of infection generates tiers, which can emphasize severe cases in need of treatment and limited resources over mild or non-existent cases. Healthcare providers are in a bind and need this data to provide adequate care for as many patients as possible. Thus, health surveillance has become a necessity in the age of COVID-19.
Integrating this data with government public health data can provide immediate value for emergency preparedness today and into the future. Check out this free COVID Resource Center for insights on how to get started.