Automated Contact Tracing: Increased Accuracy in Less Time

COVID-19 cases are rising nationally. Influenza and RSV season is right around the corner. And although no one, to date, expects a “tripledemic” like last year, forecasting suggests that the combined burden of respiratory illnesses on hospitals this year will still exceed pre-pandemic numbers. 

According to an analysis by Airfinity, a disease forecasting company, total hospital admissions due to COVID-19, influenza, and RSV are expected to be three times 2018-2019 totals.

Accurate, efficient contact tracing can help your hospital minimize the spread of infection without creating additional strain for your workforce. 

Contact Tracing is a Cornerstone of Infection Prevention

As underscored in a recent BMJ Open article, “Failure to trace contacts in a timely and accurate manner can lead to continued transmission of diseases.” That’s why contact tracing is an essential component of infection prevention and management. 

If you can accurately identify those exposed to C. diff infection, for instance, you can institute contact precautions, monitor symptoms, test for infection, and treat infected individuals. If you can’t accurately determine who was exposed, you risk both the spread of infection and unnecessary implementation of contact precautions, testing, and treatment. 

Accurate contact tracing allows you to focus your efforts on those who were exposed to potentially infectious material without burdening other staff members or patients. 

Manual Contact Tracing is Time-Consuming & Inaccurate

At present, manual contact tracing is typically conducted via electronic chart review and interviews with staff members and patients. An infection preventionist usually uses the electronic medical record to compile a list of potential exposures; then infection control personnel interview those individuals to determine who else may have been exposed. 

A 2017 article published in the American Journal of Infection Control estimated that it takes approximately 30 to 60 minutes to review the chart of one patient for potential exposures. The researchers also found that manual contract tracing missed a substantial number of contacts. 

When they conducted a retrospective comparison of manual contact tracing vs. automated contact tracing via a real-time location system (RTLS) after a pertussis outbreak, they found that the automated RTLS system identified 45 contacts that were missed by manual chart review.

Automated Contact Tracing: More Accurate & Efficient  

While manual contact tracing takes hours – and, often, multiple staff members – automated contract tracing can be done in minutes. The authors of the American Journal of Infection Control study noted that it took less than five minutes to generate a list of possible pertussis exposures using RTLS. 

Additionally, the automated system included information about the duration of exposure, a key factor in weighing an individual’s risk of contracting an infection and the need to quarantine and consider prophylactic treatment. 

A side-by-side comparison of manual contact tracing vs. automated contact tracing with a RTLS system during an infectious disease outbreak simulation exercise in a tertiary care hospital found that the automated system identified almost three times the number of contacts as manual contact tracing in significantly less time, with less staff involvement. 

Automated contact tracing resulted in a “97.6% reduction in manpower required and a 97.5% reduction in manpower-hours required.” One staff member was able to compile the contact list with the automated system, while manual contract tracing required two staff members from the infection control department and ultimately involved 24 additional departments and 40 other staff members. 

Harnessing the Power of Automation

Traditionally, cost has been a barrier to RTLS-enabled contact tracing. As noted by the authors of the BMJ Open study that directly compared manual and RTLS automated contract tracing, the initial investment in RTLS equipment can be significant. Hospitals that fully harness the power of RTLS systems, however, may save money as the uses of RTLS go far beyond contact tracing.

The SwipeSense platform uses RTLS technology to support multiple applications that enhance patient safety and organizational efficiency. The same system can be used for contract tracing, electronic hand hygiene monitoring, asset tracking, and nursing insights, which generates data that nurses and others can use to streamline workflow. 

Automation allows hospitals to efficiently deploy hospital staff to meet patient needs. With automated contact tracing, healthcare systems can swiftly manage infectious outbreaks without negatively impacting staffing.