An outbreak management system would have been a better resource for public health doctors trying to identify and manage Covid-19 outbreaks instead of the Covid Tracker App, according to the incoming president of the Irish Medical Organisation.
Dr Ina Kelly, who is also chair of the IMO’s public health committee, was speaking after The Echo revealed the Covid Tracker App was not believed to be responsible for detecting one of the 26,000 Covid-19 cases in Cork and Kerry over the past year.
A Cork public health specialist said the tracker app, which reportedly cost around €850,000, often led to more questions than it answered.
Speaking to The Echo in the wake of the story, Dr Ina Kelly agreed with this sentiment.
While she said it would be interesting to see a formal evaluation of the app, Dr Kelly also admitted that she did not know of a single case where the app led to the detection of a Covid-19 case.
“To date, I don’t think I’ve seen a single case that was picked up by the Covid Tracker App,” she said.
“But to date, I haven’t seen one and I’ve heard similar stories from my colleagues,” she added.
“I don’t see any evidence of it being an important part of our working day - it’s almost meaningless from our perspective.”
Dr Kelly said she felt that investing in an outbreak management system would have been more beneficial in Ireland’s fight against Covid-19.
An outbreak management system would allow public health teams across Ireland to collate data on new cases and outbreaks.
“That’s where the investment would have been really valuable,” said Dr Kelly.
“We still don’t have an outbreak management system more than one year on.
“At the moment, all we have is pen and paper and some emails so it’s very fragmented and random at times,” she added.
Dr Kelly explained that people can become “dazzled” by high-tech solutions and fail to realise they may not be the right option.
“I’ve found that people find high tech apps to be very appealing and dazzling to decision makers, and it’s always assumed to be better than what’s already in place, even with little knowledge of what is actually in place,” she said.
“Investigating and control of infectious diseases such as Covid is a complex task and the expertise to take on this complex task needs to be respected and resourced,” she added.
“When new innovations are considered, they need to be integrated with the expert service.
“We had an expert service that was overwhelmed and this new innovation was brought in in competition with us, rather than integrated to help us.
“There needed to be wide consultation on this app before it was brought in and I doubt there was much consultation with the frontline operations on this.”
The HSE was contacted for comment. In a statement, it said: “The Covid Tracker app has been downloaded approximately 2.2M times, COVID Tracker has received over 2.5M app registrations and we estimate that we have 1.3M active users. COVID Tracker was contributed to the Linux Foundation Public Health project and is being used by 10 public health authorities across Europe, North America and New Zealand with downloads exceeding 8M. People using COVID Tracker have checked in using COVID Check-in nearly 50M times. Over 14k people have tested positive for COVID-19 and uploaded Random IDs, an estimated 30k people have been alerted by the app as close contacts.
“The design of the app prioritised privacy for COVID Tracker users, as a result there is no accurate way to measure the number of users of COVID Tracker. In addition the metrics collected by App store and Play Store are estimates, the information provided is calculated based on users who share metrics with both platforms. A description of the data provided can be found below with details relating to its source, method for calculation, and caveats relating to accuracy.”