Evolution of the COVID Care Tracker

March 2020 was a time that many in eHealth & Disruptive Technologies will never forget.  Schools were closing, there were huge queues at the supermarkets, and nobody knew what to expect in the coming months.  All around the country, different members of eHealth were being pulled from their desks or receiving the phone call, to join the HSE’s COVID response.  This was an unnerving time, with lots of uncertainty.  Arriving in Dr. Steevens, that feeling was heightened by the presence of the army cadets throughout the building.  The pandemic had arrived and in order to enable a pathway for COVID Test & Trace, the HSE had to setup entirely new teams, new processes and new solutions, all at an incredibly fast pace.

Under the stewardship of Tom Laffan, the first principles surrounding the COVID Care Tracker (CCT) were established, and development began in an iterative, agile model. Minimum Viable Product was the order of the day, and releases were twice a week in the initial months, gradually changing to once a week, then fortnightly and now approximately once a month.  The very first release included the ability to create a patient record & each subsequent release added extra functionality.  CCT has become a well developed and integrated Test and Trace solution with modules for Contact Tracing, Public Health and Acute Hospitals, all delivered in less than 2 years.  During this time, CCT has had over 60 successful product releases, built and deployed 3 public facing portals moving the solution to a 24/7 operation, built templates for 26 different types of SMS delivering over 24 million individual COVID related SMS, 26 integration points with other systems and successfully survived the cyber-attack on the HSE, with minimal impacts to contact tracing.  Considering the very first specification for CCT was a scribble on a whiteboard, the evolution and functional development of CCT is something that everyone involved is incredibly proud of.

For the first wave of COVID19, CCT was expected to deal with low volumes of positive cases and associated close contacts.  It was a challenging time, as entirely new processes and systems were being developed.  Staff were asked to step into new roles, at a moment’s notice and to develop new skills.  CCT continued to build more functionality, taking in lab results and appointment data, integrating the COVID19 ID and modules such as Assessment Hubs and Acute Hospitals. With the arrival of Wave two and three in September and December 2020, COVID cases and contacts dramatically increased.  During these waves, two of the public portals were developed to increase contact tracing capacity, along with capacity increases in test centers and labs.  In January 2021, the vaccines arrived, with huge expectations for the vaccine roll-out across Ireland.  However, this also meant that the team now had to split into 2 distinct teams, one for CCT and one for COVAX.  The cyber-attack in May was an enormous event for the HSE, but fortunately, as CCT is a cloud-based solution, the system was largely unaffected and contact tracing was able to continue, almost as normal, while the support and operations teams quickly adapted their processes to allow them to work off network.  October and December 2021 arrived, along with the fourth and fifth waves, which were the longest, highest volume waves Ireland experienced in the pandemic.  Another public portal was deployed for Antigen Results, along with almost continuous releases for CCT to handle the regular NPHET changes to contact tracing.  During this surge, CCT handled its largest numbers of Cases and Contacts to date, reaching 27k positive Cases and 40k Contacts daily.

With 26 integration points in place, COVID Care Tracker is only one piece of a larger puzzle in the COVID pathway.  CCT couldn’t have become the fully-fledged, highly developed system it is, without the support and dedication of our colleagues across the HSE.  Access to Information, Integrated Information Services & Technology Office are three areas that contributed significantly to the success of the COVID Care Tracker and the public facing portals.  The hard work and long hours that our colleagues in these teams have put into supporting the roll-out and development of CCT, often at short notice and with extremely tight deadlines, has been and continues to be, crucial to the success of the contact tracing programme in Ireland. 

CCT is built on a cloud-based solution, utilising Microsoft’s Power Platform, developed & supported by third party partners.  Throughout the COVID pandemic, collaborative working with all our partners has been essential to the on-going development and support of the COVID Care Tracker.  On many occasions, we have required our partners to deliver or support CCT at very short notice, often out of core business hours and on each occasion, the vendor has supported the Test & Trace programme as required.  Their responsiveness and adaptability have been crucial and is greatly appreciated.

Members of the CCT team have reflected on their time working on CCT throughout the pandemic.

 

Senior ICT Project Manager:

It was great to be part of such an amazing team. We were thrown in at the deep end and pulled together to make each release work knowing the difference it would make.

 

ICT Project Manager:

“Personnel on the project changed at various times to manage projects such as Covax or deal with the Cyber-attack, I’m very proud to have been part of a CCT team that never faltered to deliver its objectives when asked and to the highest standard.”

 

Delivery Director:

“We all worked with a real sense of urgency in the early days of the pandemic. So privileged to work with such a dedicated and professional team who worked so hard to deliver so much in very difficult times.  The future for Digital and Technology services to support Health Services is very bright.”