New app to help save lives during flu outbreaks
Team designs FluCARE app to help nursing homes quickly respond to flu outbreaks
A new app designed to co-ordinate a rapid response to influenza outbreaks in nursing homes has been described as a game-changer, which will better protect vulnerable elderly residents from the disease.
The InFLUenza outbreak Communication, Advice and REporting app, or FluCARE, has been developed by a team from the Public Health Unit at Sydney Local Health District.
“The app has been created to help staff at residential aged-care facilities quickly recognise and respond to an outbreak of the flu which is critical to minimise its spread and impact,” said the unit’s epidemiologist Dr Emma Quinn.
In 2017, the Public Health Unit won a grant of $48 000 for the design, implementation and evaluation of FluCARE at The Pitch, the District’s quarterly funding challenge for innovative ideas of staff.
The team has spent the past two years developing the web-based application, which is now set to be piloted at up to 30 residential aged-care facilities in the District.
During the 12-month pilot, nursing home staff will record data about suspected cases of influenza-like illness (ILI) and flu among residents at their facilities.
The app’s algorithm will analyse the data in real-time and automatically trigger alerts when the criteria for an outbreak is reached, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
It will send email notifications to key response personnel, including the facility’s manager, the District’s on-call public health officer and designated GPs.
The facility’s staff will receive an action checklist to guide their immediate response and the District’s Public Health Unit will offer further advice about infection control measures.
“By acting sooner, we’ll be better able to contain the spread of the disease and we hope to be able to prevent hospitalisations and deaths,” Dr Quinn said.
NSW Health’s Influenza Surveillance Weekly Report shows there have been 75 influenza outbreaks in residential care facilities so far this year (as of 16 June 2019).
At least 685 residents were reported to have experienced symptoms of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) and 86 required hospitalisation.
There have been 18 deaths of residents reported, which have been linked to these outbreaks. All have had other significant underlying health conditions.
“The app will help to better protect the elderly who are among the most vulnerable members in our community when it comes to influenza outbreaks. We called the app FluCARE, because we care,” Dr Quinn said.
Feedback from nursing home staff about the design of the app has been crucial.
The app aims to streamline the reporting process and reduce the workload on nursing home staff.
During the pilot, nursing home staff will help further refine the app before a planned rollout of FluCARE to all residential aged-cared facilities in the District in 2020. The effectiveness of the app in containing outbreaks will be scientifically assessed.
The Unit’s Clinical Director Dr Leena Gupta said FluCARE uses technology in an innovative way to address an issue faced by residential aged-care facilities every year.
“It’s a game-changer. It also has the potential to be adapted to respond to other outbreaks, like a gastroenteritis outbreak in a childcare centre, which are of public health concern in the District.
“And, it could be applicable beyond our District. It has the potential to be implemented across New South Wales.
“It’s been a team effort. Other members of our Unit dedicated to the app’s development include Dr Kai Hsiao, Dr Zeina Najjar, Travers Johnstone, Andrew Ingleton and Debra Donnelly,” she said.
Dr Quinn and Mr Johnstone, the Unit’s Equity Programs Manager, will outline the benefits of the FluCARE app at the District’s Innovation and Research Symposium today.
For more information about the Symposium please see https://www.slhd.nsw.gov.au/innovationSymposium/default.html