Southern California Methodist Hospital Uses Automated Contact Tracing to Contain COVID-19


Photo courtesy of the Southern California Methodist Hospital

Contact tracing is a key strategy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But for a virus with high transmission rates and a large number of asymptomatic carriers, traditional methods may fail.

This was the case at the Methodist Hospital in Southern California, according to Dr Bala Chandrasekhar, chief medical officer of the Methodist Hospital.

The 348-bed hospital had experience tracing contacts before the pandemic, but it was a manual process that could take up to two weeks to gain information about the infection.

When the pandemic struck, that response time only worsened.

“The notification to people was late, the information was based on memory, so it was incomplete and very unsatisfactory,” Chandrasekhar said. “And with COVID, there are a number of people who are asymptomatic carriers, so by the time you have all of this information, you could pass it on to other healthcare professionals, other doctors and your doctor. family.”

The whole process was “totally dangerous,” Chandrasekhar said. That’s why, when the hospital was approached by SwipeSense, a technology platform with apps to monitor employee hand hygiene, nursing information, contact tracing and more, Chandrasekhar took over. jumped at the chance.


Automated SwipeSense contact tracing at Methodist by providing every healthcare worker and hospital staff with a smart badge to wear with their employee ID badge.

“It’s kind of like ‘set it and forget it’,” said Mert Iseri, CEO of SwipeSense. “Once that’s added to your badge, that’s really all you need to do in terms of onboarding.”

Behind the scenes, every room in the hospital is equipped with a location hub that sits in a wall outlet and creates a virtual map that can track workers as they move around the facility.

The technology can identify at-risk employees within minutes of a known positive COVID-19 test to be notified. Beyond that, it can quantify the risk by detailing the number of times an employee has entered an exposed room and the length of time they have spent with the infected person.

It can also monitor exposures in non-patient areas where employees may have removed their personal protective equipment, such as staff lounges.

Methodist began installing SwipeSense technology last September and was fully automating its contact tracing in November. What once took two weeks to trace an infected person’s interactions now takes between five and 10 minutes, Chandrasekhar said.

“It was a game-changer for us,” he said. “I don’t know what other hospitals are doing, but for us man it was the right technology at the right time and in the right place.”

One of the main factors that contributes to the effectiveness of automated contact tracing is buy-in, according to research journal The Lancet.

The Methodist requires every hospital employee to wear their badge when working, and with the SwipeSense dashboard, management can verify that everyone on the clock has a working badge, Chandrasekhar said.


At a grassroots level, Methodist implemented this technology to give its employees and patients the security that they were not going to get sicker in the hospital than they were before they got there. , according to Cliff Daniels, chief strategy officer at Methodist.

“We gained a sense of trust in the community that Methodists remained a place where they could gain excellent patient care, clinical quality and patient safety,” he said.

While Methodist is unable to quantify whether its automated contact tracing solution has reduced the incidence of COVID-19, Daniels said it has helped keep transmission within the hospital to a minimum.

“We mitigated what could have been a much worse experience with internal transmission of COVID-19 because we implemented the contact tracing utility,” he said.

For Chandrasekhar, the biggest cost savings from this implementation were in the man-hours saved by automating the process.

“It’s so different from the days and days and days of working on a single case for a few minutes,” he said. “It has made a huge difference in that they feel less stressed, and they are able to do more comprehensive tracking and tracing and informing those affected of exposure to COVID-19.”

Additionally, it prevented the hospital from sending healthy workers home unnecessarily due to low risk exposure. Before, Methodists sent home anyone exposed to COVID-19.

But now, with the new technology and updated quarantine guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Methodists can discern who was in close contact with the infected person and should be quarantined.

“I can’t put a dollar number on it, but the numbers have changed dramatically, and we have more staff coming back, and so on,” Chandrasekhar said.

While COVID-19 currently occupies the majority of contact tracing, it is not the only infectious disease that demands it. Methodist plans to continue its automated contact tracing even after the public health emergency ends, according to Chandrasekhar.

Additionally, Daniels – along with 90% of infectious disease researchers and virologists surveyed by Nature – believes that the coronavirus will become endemic, that is to say that it will circulate in the years to come.

“Containing COVID-19 is going to be a lifelong effort,” he said. “It will always be important for us to remain vigilant on contact tracing and to have this capacity so that it does not happen again in a pandemic or even an epidemic.”

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