Individuals can show their COVID pass when entering a building

When the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced a new requirement in March that all healthcare workers be screened for COVID-19 symptoms daily, the Brigham Digital Innovation Hub (iHub) quickly responded to the challenge.

Within 48 hours of beginning their work, the iHub team and Mass General Brigham (MGB) collaborators in Research Computing and Information Services completed a draft of a web-based symptoms-screening application called COVID Pass. Within 72 hours, the developers were piloting the program at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute, and at the end of the first week of operations, 25,000 employees were using COVID Pass each day.

To date, over 5 million attestations have been logged across MGB facilities. In late September, Innovation Leader, a company that delivers technological solutions to large organizations, recognized COVID Pass at its annual conference, presenting MGB with an Impact Award to honor the initiative’s sweeping influence.

“We have a longstanding history of developing operationally useful digital tools in-house, at the iHub, very quickly,” said iHub medical director Mark Zhang, DO, MMSc, while emphasizing that the success of COVID Pass is largely attributed to contributions of the core COVID Pass development team comprised of software developers across MGB led by Nina Plaks and Balaji Singh.

Protecting Everyone

COVID Pass is available for use in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Portuguese. MGB’s 74,000 employees can use the tool to affirm a lack of symptoms and receive a pass to enter their workplaces, or otherwise record and forward symptoms to Occupational Health Services. At its launch, COVID Pass also played a key role in the implementation of MGB’s universal masking policy: to enter the building, employees would need a mask, and to obtain a mask, they would need to be screened through COVID Pass.

“Leadership at MGB was able to use the data to do some really mission-critical things, like get an estimate on how many masks to order for staff across the organization,” Zhang said. “Especially during the initial surge, COVID Pass was probably our most accurate proxy to how many staff were physically on premises.”

The application has been essential to MGB’s Safe Care Commitment, which aims to protect every individual in the MGB network through rigorous screening and testing protocols. Additionally, COVID Pass has allowed MGB to aggregate a large dataset of employees who have reported COVID-19 symptoms (approximately 5,500 since March) and analyze their clinical trajectories and outcomes more closely.

With COVID Pass’s source code freely available on GitHub, its impact extends beyond MGB. Versions of the program are now used at institutions such as Tufts Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania, and New York Presbyterian.

A Key for Safe Care

Two weeks prior to the DPH symptoms-screening mandate, iHub was already at work developing digital solutions to COVID-19 challenges. In early March, the team led the efforts in creating a MGB chatbot that allowed users to self-triage suspected COVID-19 symptoms and receive guidance on next steps. Since then, it has continued to churn out digital tools to help the public respond to COVID-19 challenges. In July, based on the success of COVID Pass among employees, iHub along with an interdisciplinary development team at MGB created MGB Prescreen, a symptoms-attestation tool for patients and visitors which functions as a “fast-pass” for them to enter the hospital.

MGB Pre-Screen, which is used by roughly 700 patients and visitors to the Brigham each day, has also provided significant support to MGB’s Safe Care Commitment. It allows the Brigham to enforce its one-visitor-a-day policy and screen those visitors for COVID-19 symptoms prior to their entry.

Other recently developed tools include a COVID-19-specific pathway in Brigham @ Its Best, the Brigham’s web-based program for reporting safety and environmental hazards and requesting services to address system malfunctions. Users can rapidly record COVID-19-related inquiries, which are sent directly to Safe Care Commitment leadership.

“We continue to update COVID Pass and MGB Pre-Screen every week, improving the platforms and adding new features.” Zhang said. “COVID Pass is still very much key to our Safe Care Commitment at MGB.”

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