U. of Guelph automates for SARS screening

The University of Guelph’s Student Health Services (SHS) clinic is automating its severe acute respiratory syndrome screening process, hoping a handheld computer and searchable database solution will enable it to better track potential

cases and prevent exposure in the community.

Staff training for the Carmina Technologies Inc. solution will take place next week, and is expected to go live in the first week of July.

Currently, visitors to hospitals and doctor’s offices in many Ontario centres are required to fill out a pen and paper survey inquiring as to their symptoms and recent travel to SARS-affected areas. According to Executives at Assured, a Carmina subsidiary that develops and markets the Calgary company’s ASSUR monitoring products, the process is slow and inefficient. The surveys essentially end up in dated boxes that hospital officials have to sift through one by one when they need to contact patients who might be at risk.

“If you were in the hospital and they wanted to find out if you were there, they’d have to know the date you were there,” said Paul W. Valeriote vice president of sales for Toronto-based Assured, noting hospitals in Ontario keep track of the surveys by date rather than name. “What we’re doing is saying, ‘we’ll automate it.’”

At Guelph’s SHS clinic, the paper surveys are now filled out at three different reception centres, which leaves the clinic with “a lot of paper” and makes it even harder to determine who might have come into contact with a patient that later exhibits SARS symptoms, according to SHS director Lynda Davenport. The ASSUR implementation will involve registered nurses or administrative staff interviewing patients and recording their results on a tablet PDA tablet PC, which will be transferred in real time to a searchable database. If a visitor to the clinic later develops SARS symptoms, clinic staff will quickly be able to determine when they were there and who else might be at risk.

“Basically, we’ve developed a PDA-driven application that allows them to quickly gather the information, put it in a database, look at it quickly and even do analysis,” Valeriote said.

Assured president Barry Richardson knows first-hand the solution’s potential value. Richardson was forced to quarantine himself recently after his daughter visited a Toronto hospital at the same time as a person who was soon after diagnosed with SARS symptoms. The hospital took 11 days to inform her, meaning she could have unsuspectingly exposed others, including Richardson, in the interim.

Guelph’s Davenport said she considers it a duty for SHS to be as diligent as possible in screening for and tracking potential SARS cases.

“On a university campus we do have a certain amount of international travel going on as well,” she said. “We’re the only clinic in an area underserved by family physicians.”

Valeriote said Assured is in talks with other health care institutions, along with the provincial government itself. He added the SARS solution is cost-affordable at “under $10,000” per site.

Assured’s SARS solution is really just one variation of ASSUR-H&S, a health and safety inspection and automation tool, that is itself just one of four ASSUR products that also include solutions for pest management and food inspection. Valeriote said an ASSUR-H&S solution for West Nile virus is currently deployed in Belleville, Ont.’s Hastings & Prince Edward Counties Health Unit.

“It’s a framework that says the end user can sit down and develop their own model,” Valeriote said.

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