How Mayo Clinic created a digital toolset that can detect COVID-19 exposures within hours

A team of more than 230 Mayo Clinic IT specialists, clinicians and engineers developed an electronic system that integrates EHR data, non-clinical information and contact tracing resources to identify employees who have been exposed to COVID-19.

Laura Breeher, MD, medical director of Mayo Clinic Occupational Health Services, helped spearhead the project, which was developed in two weeks and deployed at its Rochester, Minn.-based headquarters on April 9.

As Mayo Clinic prepares to roll out the tools at its Florida and Arizona campuses this week, Dr. Breeher told Becker's Hospital Review that contact tracing initiatives are key to helping flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases.

"Contact tracing helps us quickly identify employees that are exposed," Dr. Breeher said. "We can take those who have had medium or high-risk exposures out of the hospital setting, so that if they develop COVID-19 during the following 14 days there is zero risk of them exposing patients or other coworkers."

The digital toolset, which identifies COVID-19 exposures within an average of two hours of a confirmed case, serves as an adjunct to Mayo Clinic's EHR. The first tool analyzes patient charting information to pinpoint which hospital employees had contact with a COVID-19 patient. It can then identify a supervisor, such as the nurse manager on a unit, to complete a digital contact log, detailing employees who had contact in addition to EHR charting with the individual and on which dates.

Once the potentially exposed employee list is generated, the health system deploys the next digital tool, an email questionnaire to determine the employees' proximity to the patient. Questions include whether the employee came closer than 6 feet from the patient and what PPE they were wearing, according to Dr. Breeher. Providers then make follow-up calls to the individuals and assess them.

Before implementing the digital tools, Mayo Clinic's first contact with the exposed employees would have been the provider calling them.

"You can only make so many calls within an hour, and so some employees may get those calls first and some employees may get those calls after a half hour to an hour," Dr. Breeher said. "The new system allows us to compress that assessment into a very short period of time because all the employees are being informed at once."

The employees' feedback provides "extremely consistent data," which Mayo Clinic uses when assessing recommendations for testing, quarantine or any other necessary precautions, Dr. Breeher said.

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