New screening tool puts provincial COVID-19 prevalence at your fingertips

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Infection Prevention and Control team at Kingston Health Sciences Centre creates smart tool to simplify COVID-19 screening/testing process

Ever busy working to support the safest patient care, the Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) team at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) has created a unique screening tool to support the COVID-19 risk assessment of patients coming into the hospital for elective surgery.

The COVID-19 Ontario Prevalence Tool allows users to enter the first three digits of a patient’s home postal code to view prevalence and risk reporting from the patient’s Public Health Unit based on active COVID-19 cases per 10,000 persons.

The tool is a key component of a larger COVID-19 screening and testing tool used by KHSC's surgical program to determine whether surgical patients need to be swabbed for COVID-19 prior to coming to the hospital and what Personal Protective Equipment recommendations apply when they arrive.

The brainchild of Infection Control Practitioner Meghan Engbretson, with support from IPAC Director Heather Candon, the prevalence tool is a smart, first-of-its-kind solution that handily collates daily reporting from all Ontario Public Health Units and provides a fix on prevalence reporting in a patient’s home Public Health Unit.

“It helps simplify the screening process because you no longer have to hunt through individual Health Unit websites to check prevalence rates.  And patients don’t have to know which Health Unit they fall under, which isn’t always particularly clear to them,” explains Engbretson.

“The tool allows decision-making to be faster and more efficient.  It’s also simple. You don’t need clinical expertise to use it.”

A big plus in COVID-19 environment

For Dr. Janet van Vlymen, KHSC Program Medical Director for Perioperative Services, the tool is a big plus in the COVID-19 environment, where rapid swings in prevalence mean clinicians need a clear picture of testing requirements for patients coming from a wide catchment area.

“Just recently in Kingston, we saw a small outbreak after being in bubble for many weeks, so we know prevalence can increase quickly and then fall quickly as cases resolve,” she says.

“We'll need to send patients for COVID-19 testing when the prevalence is elevated but stop once the active cases resolve.  The virus creates a very dynamic situation and the postal code tool will really help us to rapidly identify when testing is indicated.”

As an infection control expert whose daily job is to puzzle out how to best support safe care, Engbretson sees the prevalence tool as a simple and straightforward way for people to evaluate risk.

“It’s all about guiding the best care,” she says.

To access the COVID-19 Ontario Prevalence Tool click here.