Toronto develops 'more modern' tool to track COVID-19 data, ditches province's system
Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa speaks to the media at city hall in Toronto, on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)
TORONTO -- Toronto’s top doctor says the city has come up with a new “technology tool” to track and share COVID-19 data after realizing that the province’s outdated information system was just not cutting it.
At a news conference at city hall on Thursday, Dr. Eileen de Villa said public health staff quickly realized that the integrated Public Health Information System (iPHIS), the system all local public health units use to submit infectious disease information to the province, was not meeting the city’s needs.
“While iPHIS has served us for many years, for the purposes of the current COVID-19 emergency, we at Toronto Public Health quickly realized that this provincial information system was not well-equipped to deal with the data we need to quickly input,” she said.
“When we realized these limitations and that we needed more nimble technology for our response, we quickly worked with our city partners to develop a new information technology tool to keep up with our evolving contract tracing demands.”
De Villa said the new tool, dubbed the Coronavirus Rapid Entry Case and Contact Management System, is now live.
“This new, web-based secure system, a first in the province, allows our team to quickly and easily document each individual case efficiently and share data with the provincial ministry of health,” she added.
There are currently 2,881 confirmed and probable cases of the virus in Toronto, including 147 deaths. As of 12:30 p.m. Thursday, 230 patients are in hospital with 88 in intensive care.
The news of the new information system comes just two days after de Villa said public health staff could not provide more detailed numbers relating to COVID-19 cases at long-term care homes due to their heavy work load.
On Thursday, de Villa said her team is “very excited” to work with the new technology, a solution that she says will “improve and streamline” their work.
“What we did is we recognized that the circumstances and COVID-19 and the kind of response that we needed… required frankly a better system, a more modern system, and one that was more suitable to the needs of this particular situation.”
An added benefit of the new system, she said, is it will allow more frontline staff to work from home.
While the new system will be used for internal purposes only, de Villa said the information it generates will be used to provide the public with more detailed analysis of the pandemic.
“Data is core to our work in public health. It helps us to understand infectious diseases, to inform strategies to respond to complex issues, and actions to protect our health. Case and contact tracing reports provide us with some of these essential details to help us limit the spread of virus,” she said.
“We are living through an unprecedented global pandemic caused by a new virus that was unknown to us just four months ago. We must actively listen and be nimble and diligent in applying our learning as we go.”
The daily COVID-19 case numbers released by the province have frequently lagged behind the reporting of local public health units, in part because of the process of entering the data into iPHIS.
It is not yet clear if Toronto’s new system will improve the speed at which the city’s data gets to provincial health officials.
“While we have done everything to prepare and support a smooth transition, we are also prepared for potential technology transition hiccups that may occur,” de Villa said.