In May 2020, Penn and Penn Medicine leaders began exploring ways to safely reopen campus to nearly 70,000 employees, students, and others during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to social distancing, handwashing, and masking, symptom and exposure detection emerged as an essential layer of protection – one for which we did not have a plan.
It was determined that we needed to build a warning system that could help minimize COVID-19 spread. There was agreement that the system would need to prevent individuals with concerning symptoms or recent exposures from coming into contact with others and, when necessary, streamline access to testing, self-isolation guidance, contact tracing, and medical care.
PennOpen Pass is a large-scale surveillance system designed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread and manage those exposed or infected with patient triage and care coordination based on clinical algorithms.
After a one-time enrollment process, users are required to complete daily symptom and exposure checks using a mobile-friendly web application. Users who report no symptoms and no exposures get a Green Pass and clearance to proceed to campus. Users with concerning symptoms or exposures receive a Red Pass. Red Pass holders are guided through the Red Pass Management System (RPMS), an automated evaluation process backed by a team of trained clinicians who determine the user’s next steps tailored to their situation. RPMS supports include COVID-19 testing, self-isolation guidance, contact tracing, and medical care.
In concert with a suite of other mitigation measures, PennOpen Pass enabled Penn and Penn Medicine to safely resume academic, research, and clinical activities across campus in the fall of 2020, which, among other things, meant that life-saving research on COVID-19 and other diseases could continue amid the pandemic.
Between June 2020 and February 2021, over 4 million remote screenings were conducted on PennOpen Pass by more than 75,000 campus members. During this time, the program coordinated care for approximately 25,000 users who triggered a Red Pass.
By automating patient triage and care coordination, PennOpen Pass streamlined care for community members who tested positive for COVID-19 and resulted in significant cost savings for the University and the health system. The cost of operating PennOpen Pass with its current staffing model combined with technology costs is projected to be $0.9 million over 12 months. This figure is substantially less than the initial $3.8 million projected for a PennOpen Pass system without automation. Automating routine tasks also helped clinicians focus on providing humane care to those most in need.
While PennOpen Pass was created to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, the system provides a technological, operational, and clinical backbone that can be adapted after the pandemic for large-scale health and safety screening initiatives for other conditions for which the early detection of clinical decline is critical.