District adapts ground-breaking app to help aged care staff during COVID-19
Sydney Local Health District has adapted its ground-breaking FluCARE app to alert staff to potential cases of COVID-19 in residential aged care facilities.
The District’s Public Health Unit created the InFLUenza Communication, Advice and REporting application, or FluCARE, to identify influenza outbreaks among nursing home residents and help co-ordinate a rapid response.
FluCARE was developed over a period of two years in consultation with the District’s Aged Chronic Care and Rehabilitation team, led by Clinical Manager Deb Donnelly.
As COVID-19 began to spread around the world, the Public Health Unit’s Clinical Director Dr Leena Gupta recognised the app’s potential to protect residents from the coronavirus as well as influenza.
Epidemiologist Dr Emma Quinn and the team at the Public Health Unit, collaborating with the District’s ICT department, emergency physician Dr Kai Hsiao, and the app’s developers FAQ, managed to adapt it for COVID-19 in just two months. The modified version launched in May 2020.
“It was a huge amount of work in a very short time frame, but it means everything if we can save lives by minimising the spread of COVID-19,” Dr Quinn said.
The web-based app is being piloted at over 30 nursing homes across the District.
Staff enter data about respiratory illnesses among residents which the app analyses in real time. If criteria for an outbreak are met, the app sends alerts and automatically emails key response personnel, such as the aged care facility manager, the District’s on-call public health officer and designated GPs.
It also provides an online action checklist to help guide the facility’s staff in their immediate response while the Public Health Unit provides further guidance on isolation and infection control measures.
The Unit will use the data entered into FluCARE by nursing home staff to detect and monitor early signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in residents.
“People living in nursing homes are extremely vulnerable to influenza and now COVID-19,” Dr Quinn said.
“We’re hoping the app will improve the quality and reporting of data which will in turn improve the timeliness of our response to outbreaks.”
In 2017, the Unit won $48,000 in funding for FluCARE at The Pitch, where staff across the District pitch ideas for innovation in healthcare service delivery and patient care.
The app launched in June 2019 at the Sydney Innovation and Research Symposium.
The project recently received $100,000 from Sydney Health Partners through the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund Rapid Applied Research Scheme which is covering the cost of a senior research officer to run the pilot program.
The app’s effectiveness in helping aged care staff manage outbreaks will be scientifically evaluated, and the team has received ethics approval to include its COVID-19 modifications.
Following the pilot, the aim is to roll out FluCARE to all residential aged care facilities in the District next year. But the app’s makers believe it has the potential to be used further afield.
“As far as we’re aware it’s the only app of its kind in NSW and even Australia,” Dr Quinn said. “It could also be adapted for other settings with vulnerable populations, such as childcare centres.
“We’ve shown the app can be rapidly adapted for a new pathogen and we could modify it in the future for new epidemics.”
Richard Taggart, the District’s Chief Information Officer, said FluCARE is a great example of how the District is responding to COVID-19 in new and innovative ways.
“Technology is playing an increasing role in containing COVID-19, and at Sydney Local Health District we are applying it to tackle some of the big challenges of the pandemic.
“FluCARE started as an idea at The Pitch and thanks to the District’s innovation program, it has become a new tool to help protect some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”