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The Danish Ministry of Health

CLIENT STORY

Slowing the spread of COVID-19 with digital contact tracing

Around the world governments are adopting multiple measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, save lives and reduce the virus’s impact on health systems.

One of these measures is contact tracing. In just 96 days, we coordinated the development of Smitte|stop, a national digital contact tracing app implemented by the Danish public health authorities in the early months of the pandemic.

Smitte|stop is Danish for “stop the contagion,” providing a strong call to action that the Danish populace has taken to heart: More than a third of the country’s residents have downloaded the app, and infection rates lag the rest of the world. As a result, the country is better prepared for the next wave of the virus as vaccines begin to roll out.

Key successes

  • Coordinated the delivery of one of the fastest downloaded public sector apps in Denmark’s history

  • Enabled the Danish Ministry of Health to notify over 100,000 people who had encountered a person who tested positive for COVID-19 so they could book a PCR test

  • Provided a breadth of expertise to help stakeholders to make key decisions, influencing app design and the Bluetooth communication protocol selected

  • Gained users’ trust by ensuring data privacy was a foremost priority by leveraging an anonymous alerting system

Tracking exposures across a country’s entire population

Given the infectious nature of the virus, as well as the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, conventional, manual contact tracing is not a viable option for notifying individuals of their exposures. In addition, many people are unaware of the people they’ve been exposed to. For example, there is no way to trace an affected person’s interactions with unknown individuals in public transit systems, on city streets, at events, restaurants and more.

Fortunately, smartphones provide an easy and effective tool for contact tracing. They enable users to download and use an app and receive verified confirmation of a COVID-19 exposure. Using digital processes collapses the time for contact tracing.

Making governmental decisions at market speed

In early April, with cases rising, the Danish Ministry of Health decided to move swiftly, initiating a project to develop a digital contact tracing app for the country’s population to lower the reproductive rate of the virus and support the reopening of the country.

We played a lead role for this fast-paced initiative, leveraging our experience in managing complex stakeholder initiatives and crisis response to help participants from six governmental bodies align around six key workstreams – healthcare requirements, app development, UX/design, legal/compliance, policy/media and app launch – in a compressed timeframe.

In Denmark, residents are digital savvy by nature. In fact, 85 per cent of the adult population use their smartphone to access the internet. And 78 per cent use the internet more than once a day. Being such a highly digital society, Denmark was able to leverage its existing infrastructure to deploy a solution that otherwise would have taken months or years to implement.

Coordinating a national strategic digital initiative

We provided healthcare and public sector expertise, stakeholder and project management, IT architecture analysis, digital marketing and media management, facilitating a team of around 50 experts. Because we already knew the terrain so well, we began work within an hour of being briefed.

We were able to quickly help stakeholders consider the implications of key decisions, distilling complex requirements and scenarios in a manner that all the stakeholders could understand and digest. For example, we helped stakeholders align around a design, which validates positive result self-reporting against a database, ensuring that only actual infections were reported. This decision helped avoid a scenario where consumers reported positive results just to be disruptive – or terrorists used the app to instil mass panic.

Another key consideration was around which Bluetooth protocols to use. We helped stakeholders consider the pros and cons of three different Bluetooth protocols, walking through multiple scenarios. We carefully analysed each, comparing time to market and degree of accuracy in contact tracing registrations. In the end, we decided to proceed with the Google-Apple API which would provide greater interoperability across borders.

Developed in just 96 days, the Smitte|stop app has been downloaded by more than 2.2 million users. In the first few months after release, it was the fastest downloaded public sector app in Denmark’s history. Nine months after launch, more than 100,000 people had been notified that they encountered a person who tested positive for COVID-19 and should book a PCR test.

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Troels Andersen

Public services and healthcare expert