Security and privacy, contact-tracing execution strategies and data volume will all need to be considered, according to members of Protocol's Braintrust.
Dr. Este Geraghty
Chief Medical Officer at Esri
Collecting, managing and acting on daily employee wellness information, I believe, will pose the greatest data challenge to companies considering their returns to work. Many workplaces will be requiring employees to attest to or prove that they are afebrile and free of COVID-19 symptoms each and every workday. The data collection might be done manually through onsite questioning and temperature checks for employees as they arrive to work. Alternatively, digital tools can support a personal health attestation each morning before arrival.
Once the data collection method is determined and the process begins, I suspect employers will encounter some resistance. Legal and cultural norms have previously kept our health information separate from our employment information. Because of the sensitivity of the collected health information, employers may struggle to properly manage the data. They need to ensure secure digital storage as well as limited access to the information.
There will also be the requirement to act on the data. If, for example, an employee comes to work and has not done their digital attestation or is found to have a fever, they may be sent home. Losing a day of work could increase hardship for the employee and lead to frustration or anger. As the pandemic continues, employers may be asked to share their information with public health officials to assist with contact-tracing efforts. This may bring legal and ethical questions to the forefront. There is no doubt that monitoring employee wellness, despite its value, poses a significant data challenge.
Dr. Michael McManus
Principal Engineer and Sr. Health & Life Sciences Solution Architect at Intel Corporation
Countries around the world are fighting to control the future spread of the novel coronavirus as local economies open. Companies large and small have a great deal of responsibility as employees come back to work to ensure the safety of their workforce. A big consideration for businesses to weigh as employees come back to the office is whether any of their employees may be infected, and to do this effectively requires data collection.
Contact tracing to determine who has been in close contact with confirmed cases has the potential to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Contact-tracing benefits from multimodal data collection on individuals and helps to identify anyone who might have recently encountered an infected individual, enabling identification of close contacts who can be notified to self-quarantine as a precautionary measure.
In many countries, including the United States, the issues of privacy loom large. Employees would need to agree to participate in a contact-tracing method as part of their return to the office environment. And employers would need to ensure their employees' data is secure and protected. For companies and employees alike, the responsible collecting, monitoring and protection of personal data — whether it be through contact tracing or other data collection methods — is paramount as we seek to slow and stop this global pandemic.
Dr. Shahram Ebadollahi
Head of Data Science and AI at Novartis
In my industry, I think the biggest data challenge will be around the sheer volume of data and the importance of analyzing it to derive transformative insights. Data is already being used in live clinical trials, which don't just stop because of coronavirus. Indeed, such information sets could be applied to help better prepare for future pandemics, should they arrive.
Data skills are also key. One thing the pandemic has drawn attention to is the population's need for a greater sense of purpose. Something that a career in health care is clearly linked to. In fact, recent research we did found that 83% of tech professionals would consider working in health care and pharma, with 72% more likely to consider it compared to six months ago. All in, a challenge creates opportunity. In the face of and while recovering from the impact of COVID-19, there is opportunity for the pharma and health care industries to attract top tech talent wanting to use their skills for good.
Chairman and CEO at CLEAR
As companies and venues begin to reopen and seek to safely welcome back employees, customers and visitors, they face the challenge of providing peace of mind to everyone who enters their doors without being intrusive as it pertains to an individual's personal health data.
When it comes to reducing the overall public health risk during the reopening process, there is no silver bullet. But we have to start somewhere. Ultimately, companies and buildings aren't equipped to get into the health care business and have to conduct symptom questionnaires or handle lab test results. Employers and venues need proven partners and sound solutions that both protect personal data and privacy while also giving people confidence they are walking into as safe an environment as possible, whether that's an office, restaurant, store or hotel.
While we built our business in travel, at our core we are a secure biometric identity company. "Health Pass by CLEAR" is a natural extension of what we already do.
Health Pass is a mobile app that enables users to confirm that they meet an employer's or venue's requirements for entry with the equivalent of a simple red light or green light signal. They never have to share private COVID-related health data. We do this by first confirming the user's identity through our trusted biometric platform, and then linking COVID-related insights provided by that user (such as symptom self-assessments or user-authorized lab results) to their identity. Users can then seek entry to their employer's business or a partner's venue using a simple QR code to share their status and gain touchless access.
This empowers companies to create safer environments for everyone, while also respecting the privacy of their employees, customers and guests.
Founder & Chief Data Officer at Applied XL
The fundamental challenge for companies in the post-COVID era is that the performance metrics we have used for the past 100 years are no longer an accurate way of measuring what matters. Beyond financial return, organizations must make employee well-being, community resilience and operational sustainability a top priority.
Leveraging workplace data is a useful starting point, but building the necessary technological infrastructure requires consideration of each company's needs, government regulations and workers' privacy. For example, at Newlab, we recently launched a pilot with StrongArm Tech to use haptic sensors, which staff and members wear, that alert them whenever they violate social distancing guidelines. The sensor data helps Newlab better understand how to adjust the office layout to ensure social distancing, and to perform automated contact tracing in the event that someone is diagnosed with COVID-19. By using our community's anonymized data, we are equipped to track and address potential risks to health and safety.
Beyond company-level data, we need new ways of reliably measuring progress. That's why through AppliedXL we partnered with leading health publication STAT News to develop a COVID-19 Tracker and County Preparedness Index, which assigns counties in the U.S. a score that signals their readiness to address the crisis. New metrics like this equip decision-makers and the public to make appropriate decisions on how to safely return to work and resume their operations.
As companies chart new strategies to return to work, they must measure impact with a new definition of growth — one that goes beyond capital toward an era where economic gains are derived and measured by the health of people, places and planet.
Dr. Renee Dua
Chief Medical Officer at Heal
During the COVID-19 outbreak, CMS and various regulatory bodies have loosened privacy requirements for data management on behalf of companies. Now that cities are opening up again, it may become important to start following best practices to ensure patient privacy.
The biggest data challenges for companies are from a compliance and privacy perspective. Companies will need to make sure they revert to their prior, more stringent data policies in the coming months. Also, from an internal data perspective, those companies that allowed employees to work on their personal devices from home need to make sure that their company proprietary data is removed from those devices and return to using corporate assets.
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Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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