Through data analytics and real-time insights, we enabled health authorities to make critical provincial resourcing decisions – in under a week.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve all been reminded of how much we rely on healthcare workers. There are various teams that keep our medical facilities up and running to take care of us. The necessity of the work they do can’t be overstated.
Yet, one of the key dangers of the outbreak is that the very people working on the frontlines to keep the rest of us safe are some of the most at-risk to contract the virus themselves. On top of that, long-term care facilities housing seniors, also highly vulnerable to the disease, have taken the brunt of the COVID-19 outbreak. In Canada, provincial healthcare systems are intricate webs that allow for the flow of essential staff – including nurses, cleaning staff, food staff, doctors, administration and more – between facilities. Without a centrally managed platform tracking all the facilities that an individual might work at, it’s impossible to know who worked where and who they interacted with.
Typically, the fluidity of moving between different facilities doesn’t have the potential for harm. But when a healthcare worker tests positive for COVID-19, particularly if they’re actively caring for seniors, the regular freeflow of workers between locations could become a catastrophe for the entire system. The risk is not only of spread within their own medical location but to every location – and beyond.
Like all provinces, British Columbia is undertaking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. One of those is to solve the problem of potential cross-contamination between sites. On March 26 and 27, 2020, the B.C. Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, issued two executive orders that, with few exceptions, limits staff at provincial, public and private healthcare facilities and long-term care facilities to work at only one site as a measure to lessen the risk of transmission of COVID-19 between worksites.
In the short, urgent days building up to this announcement, Appnovation began working closely with the B.C. Ministry of Health and Dr. Henry’s office to build a digital platform that would ultimately help the employers of B.C. to comply with these orders, while never impacting the quality of care across the province.
A digital solution for a (very) physical problem
The spread of COVID-19 by healthcare workers within medical operations could be catastrophic during a time when their expertise and skills are, to put it mildly, absolutely essential. Knowing that they simply could not afford to have any healthcare staff spreading the virus, we came on board as an official vendor of B.C.’s Ministry of Health. Our goal was to support all the health employers of the province, both public and private, in their effort to ensure the staffing at every worksite safely meets patient care needs, at the same time as assigning staff to a single facility for the duration of this pandemic.
We consulted with the PHO to build a digital solution to address COVID-19 transmission concerns in both public and private provincial healthcare facilities. Working with government officials, Appnovation conducted an analysis that identified the type of data that needed to be collected. What was of utmost importance was to determine how to collect the data securely and in a way that ensured privacy, as well as develop a common data standard across the province.
It only took us a matter of days …
All of that data needed a sophisticated storage solution in order to properly manage it. By using modern cloud architecture, delivered on Google Cloud Platform, we were able to design and deliver a highly secure, Canadian-hosted data pipeline that collected staffing data for over 100,000 healthcare workers and cross-referenced it with schedules from 1,200 facilities. With healthcare workers top of mind, it was important that we also deliver a mobile-enabled, easy-to-use website allowing multi-site workers across the province to enter their preferred employment site. The encrypted data was used to create visualization models of staffing across the province that provided insights and analysis for real-time reporting and enabled regional Health Authorities to make important decisions about provincial resourcing.
“The B.C. government was looking for a digital solution to solve a very real and very urgent healthcare problem,” said Scott Wassmer, General Manager of Americas at Appnovation. “Through Appnovation’s consultation, data analytics and real-time insights, we’ve already been able to identify hot spots within the provincial healthcare facilities where there’s a lot of staff working at multiple sites. With that information in hand, the team is able to support the Health Authorities on decisions about resourcing to prevent any unintentional spread of COVID-19, protecting both staff and patients.” The PHO, Ministry of Health, Health Employers Association of B.C. (HEABC), and provincial Health Authorities are now using our platform to fight COVID-19 cross-contamination across the province.
It didn’t happen overnight. (But it was close.)
Finding quick solutions to complex problems
As with many aspects of the fight against COVID-19, time was of the essence. Understanding healthcare resourcing at a provincial level is an enormous task on its own, but we needed to build quickly. To begin, we had to ensure we fully understood both the immediate need as well as how to devise a system that would work for the unknowable length of the pandemic. On top of that, it had to protect the sensitive personal information of the more than 100,000 workers entered into the system. The pure amount of data alone was huge, but within a matter of days, we were able to define, design, build, test and launch a digital solution that from day one was capable of secure data collection, analytics, and reporting across the province.
Some of the key aspects we worked through included:
Data visualization and real-time analytics
Data is only as useful as its organization. Without proper structure and intent, the largest pools of data can’t be utilized. By proactively consulting with policymakers to provide critical insight and strategy behind collection, we were able to come to a common data standard across the province. We worked together to navigate complexity and ensure that what we wanted to do was achievable. The end result – that the government could issue an order that could realistically be complied with – had to be actionable and useful. The encrypted data we gather is used to create visualization models of staffing across the province and provide insights and analysis for real-time reporting. At the same time, real-time analysis dashboards work 24/7 to immediately surface any hotspots so employers can make fast but data-driven decisions around staffing and resources.
Digital consultancy and design
To begin, we needed to understand the full scale so that we could foresee challenges and build them into our planning before they could grow into problems. We worked with the B.C. government to consult on strategy, build a secure data pipeline, and to both collect and analyze personnel data from the province’s healthcare workers. Knowing that staff are already incredibly busy and stretched thinly, we designed a mobile-enabled, low-complexity interface that would be highly available for staff that are multilingual and sometimes working from remote locations.
Privacy and compliance
The security around protecting people’s sensitive employment data was paramount. Ensuring privacy and compliance was a key requirement from the very start. That led to the entire system being purpose-built specifically around data protection, including encryption, anonymization, and keeping all data housed within Canada. “We’re immensely proud to be able to do our part to help combat this crisis and build real-world solutions that will help keep our invaluable healthcare workers more safe and secure. I want to thank all of our partners in the B.C. government and our incredible team at Appnovation for working together to meet the challenge and using our expertise to make a real difference,” says Wassmer.
The team has already begun communicating with both Health Authorities and individual healthcare facilities to expedite the Single Site Staffing initiative and lessen the risk of COVID-19 transmission across healthcare facilities. On top of that, our analysis has started to identify initial hot spots where we’ve found a concentration of staff working across facilities, giving Health Authorities the info it needs to adjust in real-time. Similar challenges have already begun to surface in other provinces. As other geographies struggle with the same problem, we’re here to help and share what we’ve learned.
“Anything we can do to help the other provinces we certainly are, and we’re having some of those conversations right now,” says Iain MacNeil, CRO at Appnovation.