Medical technology

Perspectives

Addressing social needs through contact tracing technology

Enabling a sustainable recovery post COVID-19

The point of connection between contact tracers and infected or exposed individuals presents an opportunity to address social needs. Doing so can help decrease the spread of COVID-19 and enable a sustainable, resilient recovery.

Contact tracing technology to address social needs

Since COVID-19 reached US shores, the country has been racing to respond to the virus’s immediate effects—minimizing widespread infection, sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, and deploying frontline health care and other essential workers. Now, as states start to reopen, many plan to use widespread testing, contact tracing, and monitoring to keep the virus in check.

Estimates vary, but the country will likely need between 100,000 and 300,000 contact tracers, who will end up communicating with millions of Americans over the next year and beyond.1,2 Contact tracers will identify new positive cases, locate close contacts of each identified case, and help both the infected person and those who were exposed isolate themselves.

Since COVID-19 has disproportionately affected low-income and minority populations, contact tracers will likely interact with many people who are vulnerable socially, economically, and medically.3 To increase the likelihood that infected or exposed individuals are able to comply with isolation protocols, the contact tracing process should address unmet social needs, along with medical needs. People who cannot meet their basic needs—they don’t have enough food, for example, or are doubling up with relatives in a cramped apartment—may have a hard time remaining isolated.

When contact tracers connect with infected or exposed individuals, it is important to ask about food, housing, and employment. Assessing needs is generally a critical first step; however, it can be equally important to connect individuals with resources to fill any gaps identified through the process. Addressing social needs in the contact tracing process is an important step that will likely provide a significant return in the speed and success of recovery.

Authors

Alex Schulte
Alex is a practitioner in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s commercial Strategy and Operations practice. She has worked with providers, nonprofits, and governments, focusing on population health strategy, care management, behavioral science, and global health.

Lindsay Hough
Lindsay is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Government & Public Services (GPS) practice. She supports state governments in health care (Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance program), public health, human services, and workforce development programs. She also leads Deloitte’s services related to operations improvement for federal, state, and local governments.

Tiffany Dovey Fishman
Tiffany is a senior manager with the Deloitte Center for Government Insights. Her research and client work focuses on how emerging issues in technology, business, and society will affect organizations. She has written extensively on a wide range of public policy and management issues, from health and human services reform to the future of transportation and the transformation of higher education.

Acknowledgments
The authors would like to extend thanks to Lydia Murray, Will Arnold, Sameer Taranath Bhat, David Rabinowitz, Sarah Kaulfuss, Ann Mills Lassiter, and Sima Muller for their invaluable insights and thoughtful feedback.

1 Chrystal Watson et al, “A National Plan to Enable Comprehensive COVID-19 Case Finding and Contact Tracing in the US,” Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, April 10, 2020.
2 Selena Simmons-Duffin, “States Nearly Doubled Plans For Contact Tracers Since NPR Surveyed Them 10 Days Ago,” NPR, May 7, 2020.
3 John Matthew Douglas, “Why COVID-19 Underscores The Importance of Social Determinants of Health,” HIT Consultant, April 20, 2020.
4 At this point in time, the contact tracing process largely relies on manual efforts and can be time- and labor- intensive. However, there are digital tools and capabilities being developed that support the contact tracing human workforce and may reduce the degree of manual effort going forward. See Digital Tools: Resources from the CDC.
5 Alliance for Health Policy, “COVID-19 Webinar Series Session 14 - Lessons from Home and Abroad: Implementing a Contact Tracing Strategy,” May 13, 2020.
6 Yuri Cartier et al, “Can Community Resource Referral Technologies Support Local COVID-19 Response?Health Affairs, April 23, 2020.
7 Sarah Thomas, “Want to improve the health of Medicare/Medicaid members? Meet their socioeconomic needs,” Deloitte Health Forward Blog, March 26, 2019.
8 Denise Smith et al, “To Strengthen The Public Health Response To COVID-19, We Need Community Health Workers,” Health Affairs, May 6, 2020.
9 Katie Pearce, “Johns Hopkins launches online course to train army of contact tracers to slow spread of COVID-19,” Johns Hopkins University, May 11, 2020.
10 CDC, “Contact Tracing Resources,” May 22, 2020.
11 Johns Hopkins University, “Mortality Analyses,” May 30, 2020.
12 Rajiv Leventhal, “Healthcare Leaders Examine the U.S.’ Massive Contact Tracing Undertaking,” Healthcare Innovation, May 14, 2020.
13 Alliance for Health Policy, “COVID-19 Webinar Series Session 14 - Lessons from Home and Abroad: Implementing a Contact Tracing Strategy,” May 13, 2020.
14 Jim Hardy, “With Medicaid enrollment expected to soar, states prepare for a long ‘rainy day,” Deloitte Health Forward Blog, May 14, 2020.
15 Kristin Toussaint, “The coronavirus is exposing how vital stable housing is to healthcare,” Fast Company, April 9, 2020.
16 Interview with Lydia Murray, interim executive director of Lincoln Park Community Services, on May 25, 2020. Name of individual changed for privacy reasons.
17 Lydia Ramsey et al, “Most coronavirus patients who go on ventilators won't survive. But those who do can face long-term trauma,” Business Insider, April 17, 2020.

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