The Public Health’s Solution to Patient and Contact Tracing

For months, Jim was planning his wife’s 40th birthday surprise – a fun evening of friends and delicious food at her favorite restaurant. When everything shut down because of COVID-19, he assumed all plans were out the window. Just in time, however, their state reopened, including his wife’s favorite eatery. Quickly, Jim corralled their friends and made reservations – the party of eight had a delightful time. Until the ride home, when Jim’s phone notified him that a waitress at the restaurant was confirmed to have COVID-19 – a reemerging hotspot. Quickly, Jim and his wife called their friends to notify them to quarantine and get tested. One couple had already stopped off at a convenience store on the way home, and others were in contact with their babysitters and children, exchanging hugs, handshakes and money.

Thanks to accessible contact and proximity tracing from their smartphones, each of the couples were able to report their test results and alert the people and places they had been in contact with. Had they been asymptomatic carriers for another two weeks, who knows how much larger this outbreak could have been.

Although fictitious, this story illustrates the real-life examples of how resurging hot spots and a potential second wave of Coronavirus are coming to be across our nation.


What exactly is contact tracing?

It’s an effort to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus. Through digital surveys, typically administered by text message or email, COVID-19 patients can work with nurses and epidemiologists to symptom monitor, report who they’ve been in contact with, places they’ve gone and their test results. Doing so supports patients in regaining their health, and mitigates the spread by quickly notifying any potentially exposed people so that they can quarantine and get tested.

One of the first contact tracing applications was born in Ottawa County’s Department of Public Health (OCDPH) in Michigan. Understanding the limitless capacity of their existing digital workflow system, the OCDPH team responded quickly when COVID-19 began plaguing the United States in March 2020. In just over a week, their team stood up an expanded, end-to-end patient and contact tracing application.

Integrated with ESRI, MDSS (Michigan’s public health records system) and the survey platform Qualtrics, Ottawa County immediately began surveying new patients, tracing contacts and high-risk populations, and building an interconnected public health community of nurses, epidemiologists, environmental health professionals and more to flatten the curve.


The integrative case management tool allows the public health team remote access to critical information across multiple systems. This includes daily, self-reported survey responses from patients and contacts via email or SMS, seamless integration with the state’s public health reporting system and, ultimately, the CDC. Up-to-the-minute reporting, streamlined data capture and management, and increased visibility for health care professionals are just a few of the benefits born out of these sequential, digital transformations. Most importantly, the automated reporting and follow-up frees nurses from repetitive, time-consuming data entry and allows more time to be spent on the critical, human elements of care, including talking with new patients and tracing their contacts, prioritizing case investigations and follow-ups, guiding the ill through proper treatment and isolation practices, and connecting patients with resources to meet their medical needs without needing to break isolation.

To date, the OCDPH has administered more than 51,181 virtual surveys. With a 91 percent response rate, over 6,913 hours of medical attention have been returned to patient care.

Most incredible is that the OCDPH team single-handedly built this system within the capacity of their own staff and resources. Understanding the comprehensive power of their existing digital solution and identifying the current obstacles slowing patient care laid the groundwork for this transformative tracking application. As the curve continues to flatten, OCDPH nurses are already encouraging the solution’s long-term purpose in the public health realm, saying, “we can use this for so much more than just the COVID crisis.”


In their efforts to build a more interconnected healthcare community, The Ottawa County Department of Public Health has graciously created two short videos explaining how any public health department can integrate their own patient and contact tracking application with state record systems and survey tools.

Integrating State Reporting Systems with OnBase

This two-minute demonstration illustrates how the OnBase solution works together with the state’s records management system to continuously generate and update case information. And because the state’s record system is the foundational source of data, any updates or changes to the state system will override and update the corresponding information field in OnBase.

Survey Response Integrations

In five minutes, viewers will learn how survey software works together with OnBase to successfully reach, administer and collect survey data from patients and their contacts. Automated workflows with pre-determined triggers allow large volumes of data, including symptoms and trends, to be collected daily, giving medical staff visibility into worsening patients and/or high-risk populations.


The OCDPH nurse was correct: their contact tracing software is already being purposed beyond Coronavirus.

Within just a month or two of state-wide reopenings, there have been multiple virus resurgences. Restaurants, bars, beaches and other “hot spots” are popping up in almost every state, especially around the borders.

In efforts to get ahead of the curve and prevent a second wave of wide-spread pandemic shutdowns, researchers and technology developers are working to equip people with Bluetooth proximity tracing tools and smartphone-powered contact tracing apps.

Unlike direct contact tracing, proximity tracing includes smartphone notifications that alert you when you’re in a hot-spot location or near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Being able to see highly congregated areas with Coronavirus exposure not only encourages others to keep their distance, but also alerts public health departments of exposed facilities and hot-spot regions.

By teaming up with these smaller, high-risk community groups, like Universities, churches, and so on, public health experts are hoping more people will be encouraged to install the app and help carry out these mitigation efforts. In addition to COVID-19 tracing, developers are working to equip schools, restaurants and overall smaller communities with this contact tracing software to control other disease outbreaks, including measles, shingles, the flu, chickenpox and so on.


If you find yourself wanting to learn more, you’re in luck! First, check out this article giving a more detailed walkthrough of the OCDPH’s story. When you’re ready for more capability play-by-plays, please send us a brief message through webchat or send us a message. We’ll gladly sent you some tutorials on:

  • Automated data succession through filtered inboxes
  • WorkView’s case management system
  • Moving cases and contacts through proper sequences
  • Adding contacts to cases
  • Turning a contact into a case
  • Parceling down searches with filters

“To date, 91 percent of the more than 51,181 surveys administered have been completed, returning more than 6,913 hours back to patient care. ”

The Ottawa County Department of Public Health

Request a Demo

Want a better visual of how contact tracing works? Have questions about implementing it within your own county or organization? We’re here to help.


Our digital contact tracing software meets or exceeds the CDC’s guidelines for Health Department COVID tracing. Understand the CDC’s guidelines for implementation and use in the PDF below.


A cross-industry opportunity for everyone, the Patient and Contact Tracking application is also available in the Cloud. Read more about our Cloud Hosting options on the webpage below.