This article originally appeared on the AWS Public Sector Blog on Aug 6, 2020
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is committed to helping our customers address the challenges brought about by COVID-19. In the months since the pandemic started, we have helped governments and organizations around the world accelerate efforts to track the virus, understand its outbreak, and better contain its spread. These are principles that have been reinforced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and its director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said that “the faster all cases are found, tested, and isolated, the harder we make it for this virus to spread. This principle will save lives.” With the number of worldwide cases continuing to rise at an alarming rate, there is a global imperative to discover, test, and isolate patients in order to slow the viral spread, save lives, and fully reopen economies.
To meet this public health imperative, governments are expanding their use of a well-established technique called “contact tracing.” Contact tracing is one of the oldest tools in the public health arsenal, and has been used to limit the spread of a range of infectious diseases like Ebola virus disease, tuberculosis, and measles.
During the current pandemic, innovative companies and governments are leveraging AWS’s breadth and depth of services to scale up the tools used by public health workers to investigate confirmed and suspected cases, identify individuals who have been exposed, isolate them to prevent additional infections, and monitor for signs of illness.
Field-based data collection solutions for public health
COVID-19 can be spread between individuals before symptoms are present, so case investigation and contact tracing activities must be swift and thorough. In combination with traditional call and trace methods, digital tools can augment and significantly speed case investigation, and help manage new cases at the scale needed to curb a pandemic.
AWS Partner Network (APN) Partner Dimagi was founded in 2002 out of the MIT Media Lab and the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology programs, and offers secure tracing and tracking solutions that are widely used by frontline healthcare workers for disease and health management, including for COVID-19. Dimagi’s CommCare is being used by New York to help the state scale up their contract tracing capabilities in response to COVID-19.
“The State of New York used Dimagi’s CommCare platform and Amazon Connect to quickly deploy a cohesive contact tracing system that allowed public health officials to leverage scale and communicate vital information across the state,” said Mahesh Nattanmai, chief health information officer at the New York State Department of Health. “The powerful combination of Dimagi’s public health expertise, coupled with cloud-based technology, has allowed us to regularly improve our contact tracing application based on feedback from public health officials with speed and agility as this pandemic evolves.”
CommCare is a mobile data collection and service delivery platform that enables healthcare organizations to quickly build and deploy custom mobile applications for every phase of an effective COVID-19 response—from screening and contact tracing to patient monitoring and post-care support. CommCare is built on AWS, allowing governments and organizations to scale tracing applications rapidly, so that they can more quickly understand the spread of the disease and formulate public health responses.
“The most important responders during an active disease cycle are epidemiologists, public health investigators, and contact tracers, who need the tools to quickly collect and assess information about where it’s spreading,” said Jonathan Jackson, co-founder and chief executive officer of Dimagi. “CommCare is architected to be scalable, secure, and adaptable to local requirements. Healthcare workers can work efficiently and upload data to the cloud fast so that public health officials can make informed decisions.”
Scaling contact centers to reach new patients
When infections are detected, the speed with which exposed individuals are alerted can be the difference between containment and spread. Manual contact tracing, which involves contacting a patient and asking the patient to recall the place, location, and time of exposure to others, is labor intensive. Johns Hopkins University estimates that over 100,000 contact tracers will need to be trained in the United States alone to build community engagement, maintain accurate and complete records, and ensure that patients are referred for testing, medical care, and other services.
“Contact tracing is one of the few and best tools we have to manage the spread of COVID-19, especially as we lift population-wide social distancing measures. Combining traditional methods of contact tracing with digital technology has the potential to further enhance our ability to track and manage this pandemic,” said Crystal Watson, senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. “Speed matters, and if infected people are not out in the community spreading the disease, we can break chains of transmission and start to slow the spread at a population level.”
Virtual contact centers can handle inbound and outbound client communication through multiple channels including phone, web, chat, email, and social media. Virtual contact centers use advanced technologies, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, to resolve customer issues more quickly, track customer engagements, and capture interaction and performance data.
Many state and national governments are augmenting their “feet on the street,” manual contact tracing capabilities with virtual contact centers. Accenture and Salesforce built web-based case-management solutions and virtual contact centers in weeks, not months, using Amazon Connect. Contact tracers in California, Maryland, and Massachusetts now work remotely to reach out to potential contacts using Amazon Connect, AWS’s virtual cloud contact center service, to facilitate fast, effective, and scalable communications to impacted individuals.
Taking action to make faster, more complete data-driven public health decisions
There are numerous benefits of contact tracing, including the ability to understand where the virus is spreading to contain it faster, and to provide public health and government officials with information that they need to assess when to reopen businesses and schools. Around the world, countries are launching contact tracing applications to stem future outbreaks. The Health Service Executive of Ireland (HSE) chose AWS to host the underlying cloud infrastructure on which it built its Pandemic Response smartphone application. Using AWS, HSE is able to deliver a highly secure, scalable, reliable solution.
At AWS, we are committed to helping governments and their technology partners modernize traditional approaches to community health with secure, scalable, and quickly deployable solutions to protect communities today and into the future. And while we, like everyone else trying to solve this crisis, don’t have all the answers, we are dedicated to deploying our services to help.
Learn more about AWS’s response to COVID-19 and find more resources on how we help governments around the world build securely with the scale, speed, security, and reliability needed—whatever your mission entails.