How constraints and a sense of urgency can drive innovation
The development of the PennOpen Pass, a symptom and exposure warning system, provides a lesson on how challenging elements can focus the mind, allowing the development of new tools that meet needs. community demand.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created major population health challenges in communities around the world. From our world perspective, as a university and as an academic health center, this is the unique challenge that university leadership presents to us.
While our essential health facilities never ceased operations, most university campus activities were suspended. Students were sent home, classes were held remotely, and many of the university’s administrative and functional departments were moved to work remotely.
Although we were initially asked to seek to ensure a safe student return, the scope of the problem was rapidly expanding to include all of our community members, across all institutions. department of the school. This expansive community includes students, faculty, staff, outside contractors, patients and visitors to our university campus and healthcare facilities.
As a healthcare information team, we realize that we cannot solve this problem on our own. However, we know that the ability to formulate and deliver effective digital technology solutions will be critical to achieving our goals.
Because safety was an important need for our communities during a pandemic, we considered a range of potential solutions.
We have been thinking about different technical approaches to detecting close interpersonal relationships and gathering information to assist with contact tracking that we can build on our own or Cooperate with others to build. We have met with other organizations around the world who are facing similar challenges to learn about their approach to solving this problem.
When we consider technical feasibility, such as automatically detecting close contacts between people via Bluetooth signals on their smartphones or by dividing data from networks. wirelessly, we were faced with the limitations of our viable solutions that are determined by the health-determined “population” faction – our community members and organizational stakeholders.
The message we’ve heard many times is: Reach people. Privacy is paramount.
The need to reach everyone in our community means our digital solutions cannot rely on everyone with the latest technology. Some members of our community lack regular access to smartphones and computers, so we needed to design alternatives manually as part of the solution.
Privacy is often the biggest factor in deciding what we did or didn’t build. Solutions that collect location data or record human contacts, accepted in some parts of the world, have been identified as too intrusive for our staff and students.
To address those concerns, our legal and privacy team has developed a “privacy statement” outlining our goals and what we will do – and will not – with the data we have collected. This has helped to make our efforts transparent with our community and provides a framework for approving technical changes and future use of data.
These considerations have motivated and focused our efforts on what needs to be built. We developed PennOpen Pass, a symptom and daily exposure survey tool, sent via SMS text messages and web form survey, offering advice on next steps for those who experience it. symptoms COVID-19 or people who have been exposed.
We also develop tools to help managers with the in-depth follow-up needed for positive cases. Through real-time APIs, our monitoring and management solutions can interact with our EHR and COVID-19 test result systems.
On a daily basis, we can understand how many people are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, how many people are likely to be exposed, and how many staff and students are required to be isolated to limit exposure during future. These efforts have helped us achieve our goal of keeping our communities safe as they continue on campus education, research and wellness activities.
As technologists, we often see limitations to solutions as obstacles to success. But those limitations can be very helpful for us, by providing the focus we need to quickly focus on solutions that truly meet our community’s needs.
Glenn Fala is the deputy information director at Penn Medicine.