Introducing IBM Enhanced Discovery for Contact Tracing

4 min read

IBM Enhanced Discovery for Contact Tracing is a new solution designed help improve contact tracer efficiency.

When a person comes into close contact with someone who has COVID-19, they are at increased risk of becoming infected themselves and of potentially infecting others. Contact tracing can help prevent further transmission of the virus by quickly identifying and informing people who may be infected and contagious, allowing them to take steps to quarantine and isolate in order to reduce the further spread of the virus.  

Contact tracing begins when someone is notified that their test results have come back as positive. While protocols may differ from agency to agency, in most cases, the first step is for the contact tracing case manager to provide advice and guidance on sheltering in place and accessing food and healthcare. Then, they turn to asking with whom the person may have been in close contact in the past several days.    

Understanding contact tracing

As per the CDC suggested framework, there are four steps to contact tracing:

  • Step 1: Rapid notification of exposure
  • Step 2: Contact interview
  • Step 2a: Testing and quarantine/isolation instructions
  • Step 2b: Assessing self-quarantine support needs
  • Step 3: Medical monitoring
  • Step 4: Contact close out

The contact tracing process starts with the contact tracer calling or contacting the case's contacts, informing them of their exposure, asking about symptoms, and giving them instructions about quarantine. Contact tracing is time-consuming, repetitive, and its success can potentially depend on the efficiency of the contact tracer.

Firstly, repetition is inherent to contact tracing. The process of calling the contacts may be repeated many times for all the different contacts that the case had. 

Secondly, identifying all the contacts of the case can be challenging. Typically contact tracers use helpful questions to gather this information from the case, such as, "Do you have any caretakers or housemates? Where have you traveled?" All of those questions allow the contact tracer to help the case remember the things that they may have been doing during their infectious period.

Ideally, the contact tracer is going to be implementing regular check-ins, being in constant contact with the case and their contacts to follow up on symptoms and how things are going with their isolation and quarantine. They're going to ask them, importantly, if they've had new contacts, because then they would need to find those people as well. Furthermore, the contact tracer tracks if every contact has had any symptoms. If so, they may need to get a test and then may also need medical care. 

Technology has the potential to help with efforts to improve contact tracer efficiency

In the context of contact tracing, technological solutions can potentially help to increase the productivity of the contact tracers. These solutions can increase the speed of response, and modeling shows this to be critical to the overall success of contact tracing. 

Identifying the contacts of a case can be simplified by use of data from available sources (e.g., public records, business data, assets data, etc.), consolidated by pre-integrated data providers. It can help to reduce the manual effort required of the contact tracer to gather contact information.

Data analysis tools such as IBM Security i2 Analyst’s Notebook can potentially be used to help a contact tracer investigate a case and identify contacts and the events that are associated with those contacts.

IBM Enhanced Discovery for Contact Tracing 

IBM Enhanced Discovery for Contact Tracing is designed to combine the identification and investigation tools into one solution offering and help improve contact tracer efficiency. Starting with the person testing positive — the "index patient" or "case" — the solution is designed to help contact tracers identify common residence parties and close contacts. Enhanced Discovery identifies contact information for the case’s connections so that contract tracers can work to quickly ask affected parties to isolate and schedule testing.

Solution components and features

Contact tracing diagram

The solution is delivered as a SaaS over IBM Cloud. It is designed to offer a connection to virtual desktops that have the analytics and visualization components used by the contact tracers or analysts. The solution provides a single UI to the end user while managing integration and data transfer complexity in the backend.

  • Rich visualization: IBM i2 Analyst's Notebook, the rich client used by contact tracers in this solution, is a visual analysis tool that helps contact tracers turn data into insights. It provides innovative features such as connected network visualizations, network analysis, and geospatial or temporal views to help them uncover hidden connections and patterns in data. These insights can help contact tracers identify and help disrupt potential disease spread.
  • Built-in data connectors: The solution has built-in connectors to third-party data providers. Besides these standard connectors, it also offers a database connector to integrate with existing databases of agencies or third parties. 
  • Configurable: The solution is configurable, allowing you to create a new group for the agency or to add a client system administrator. It also allows you to configure data sources easily.
  • Rapidly deployable: Being delivered as a cloud service, a new customer can get started using the solution quickly, compared to configuring a solution on-premises. The data provider accreditation and credentialing are handled offline. If a customer wants to have a dedicated/single-tenant environment on cloud, that can also be offered too. 
  • Available as a subscription service: It is available as a monthly subscription service. No large procurement or services integration is required. There is a simple monthly charge per user and requires no upfront capital expenses.

Potential benefits of IBM Enhanced Discovery for Contact Tracing

  • Provides enhanced investigation capabilities by searching public records via APIs exposed by third-party data providers to locate relevant contact information. The customer is expected to have necessary agreements in place with third-party data providers.
  • Facilitates lookups using visual queries if the COVID patient cannot recall contact information for parties.
  • Optimizes the value of massive amounts of information collected by government agencies and businesses.
  • Allows analysts to quickly collate, analyze, and visualize data from disparate sources, while potentially reducing the time required to discover key information in complex data.
  • Delivers actionable intelligence to help identify and disrupt the spread of COVID-19.

Conclusion 

Use of IBM Enhanced Discovery for Contact Tracing can potentially result in improved quality and productivity of the data analysis, helping to enable a rapid response to the departmental stakeholders as they embark on their contact tracing efforts. 

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