Contact tracers help public health departments track and stop the spread of infectious diseases. In this guide, you’ll learn some of the methods used by contact tracers to perform this important public health function. We’ll also discuss how mobile apps can potentially make it easier to identify the ways these types of diseases move throughout various communities.
Contact Tracing Methods
When identifying and contacting individuals infected with a contagious disease, time is critical. The sooner you can educate infected individuals about how to not spread the disease to others, the greater your ability to reduce the number of people who contract that condition.
Notifying those who have been potentially exposed is important as well. This enables them to take the necessary precautions to not infect others if they have caught the virus.
Two of the methods used to contact both sets of individuals include making contact by phone and engaging the help of certain types of technology to help continue to reduce the spread.
A 2019 Pew Research study found that 94 percent of U.S. adults have some type of cellular phone. That makes this contact tracing method helpful by enabling access to a large majority of the population.
During this phone contact, the contact tracer interviews the infected or potentially exposed person. This interview may include:
- Educating the person about infectious disease and how it is spread.
- Asking about any symptoms they may have to learn more about how the disease is impacting those who have been infected.
- If the person has been potentially exposed and is experiencing symptoms, the interview may include finding out who they’ve had contact with so those people can be contacted as well.
- Making an isolation or quarantine plan to help reduce the spread of the virus.
- Identifying the individual’s concerns and/or needs while isolating or quarantining.
- Connecting contacts with additional community resources, if necessary. Examples of this would be helping them set up grocery delivery, child care, and the pickup of prescription medications.
- Conducting follow-up to ensure that the contacts are taking actions to help reduce the spread of the disease to others in their community.
Getting people to share private information about where they’ve been and who they’ve been around isn’t always easy. That’s why, at Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA), we dedicate an entire module of our Online Contact Tracing Course to the soft skills that can help you collect this type of data.
In this section of the course, we talk about effective communication techniques such as asking open-ended questions, engaging in active listening, and being empathetic to the interviewee’s feelings and concerns. UMA’s online course also provides scenarios so you can see these skills in action. Not all contact tracing courses offer this type of training, so this is something to look for before signing up for a particular course.
Technological Contact Tracing Methods
Because time is of the essence in stopping the spread of infectious diseases, technology can assist in these efforts. One way that technology helps is by giving a contact tracer online access to databases which contain important information.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created minimum guidelines for digital databases used to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This includes being able to manually enter data collected during one-on-one phone calls, but also the ability to export data from existing lab and patient data systems so contact tracers have access to the most up to date information.
After the initial interview, this technology can be used to help reinforce the information that was provided to the person contacted. This includes providing follow up recorded messages, emails, and texts that go over the best ways to reduce the spread. These platforms can also be used to provide additional information, such as if it is recommended that they follow new protocol or if additional resources have been identified.
The important thing to remember as a contact tracer is to always follow your agency’s required methods and protocol. Each public health agency can dictate the information it wants you to collect during a phone interview. It can also decide which technology you will have access to while performing your contact tracing duties.
Contact Tracing Mobile Apps
Some companies have also created mobile apps designed to aid the contact tracing process. As an example, Apple and the CDC have teamed up to offer the COVID-19 Screening Tool. This app shares information about the virus, tells you when you should be tested, talks about how to slow the spread, and identifies resources available to you if you need assistance during COVID-19.
There is also a HEALTHYLYNKED COVID-19 Tracker app which enables users to report their COVID-19 status. The three options are:
- If they’ve not tested positive and have no symptoms
- If they’ve not tested positive but do have symptoms
- If they’ve tested positive
Each of these users is assigned a different color dot which appears on a map of the area. This provides a real-time image of individuals in the geographical area who fall into one of these categories.
One of the main benefits of using mobile apps for contact tracing purposes is that you get access to immediate, real-time information. This can be important in the case of novel viruses such as COVID-19 because the data can change daily based on what is learned about that specific disease.
That said, there are some drawbacks to using mobile applications. These include:
- not everyone has access to each technology
- requiring that the app be downloaded, so it is not a comprehensive notification system
- just because you were in the general area doesn’t mean that you have been exposed (such as the being within 6 feet for 15 minutes, or whatever the factors that increase possible spread)
- requiring that people enter their status information correctly
If there is a breakdown in any of these areas, the information provided may be incorrect and of little benefit.
Want to Work as a Contact Tracer?
If you are interested in working as a contact tracer, UMA offers an Online Contact Tracing Course. This course is available at no cost and consists of six different, interactive modules designed to teach you more about infectious diseases, how they spread, and what information to collect to help protect the general public from contracting a particular virus.
Upon completion of this course, you will not only have the education necessary to work in this public health role, but you’ll also know how to take your current skills and apply them to a contact tracing role.
Enroll today to learn more about contact tracing, what it is, and how to perform this important function in a way that increases your success. Or, if you still have questions about whether this online course is right for you, contact us to learn more!
The Contract Tracing module is not included within Ultimate Medical Academy’s grant of accreditation from the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).