29. September 2021

From manual process to digital reporting platform in a few short weeks


FOPH // When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, reporting system requirements altered dramatically. Within just a few weeks, the number of reports to be processed had climbed from 500 to 50,000 per day. And so the race was on to adapt the digital infrastructure to the new requirements. Joining forces with ti&m, the Federal Office of Public Health responded by setting up a digital reporting platform in just three weeks.

The mandatory reporting system obliges doctors at local surgeries and hospitals and medical laboratory staff to report cases of communicable diseases to the FOPH and medical officers in the canton. The reports are used to monitor how diseases are developing, and to introduce the necessary measures to curb their transmission. As a rule, the 300 or so reports coming in every day were written by hand, sent by post or fax, and processed manually.

After years of drawing attention to the issue, we were granted the appropriate budget to digitalize the process. Following a due tendering process, in November 2019 the FOPH awarded ti&m the tender for developing and operating a digital reporting platform. The project was scheduled to launch in February 2020 – and then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in Switzerland. As early as February, it was already clear that manually transferring reports into the system was no longer an option due to the sheer number of reports coming in. In crisis mode, we set about digitalizing the reporting platform together with our project partner ti&m, under extreme pressure.

From 500 to 50,000 reports per day
Within three weeks, based on the existing solution designed for 500 reports a day, ti&m developed a new digital reporting platform with a processing capacity of up to 50,000 test results a day. The processed reports were collected into two separate data pools. One pool was for positive test results and the other for negative test results, which simplified later use of the data. It was crucial that all existing federal log-ins could still be used on the reporting platform (CH log-ins and FED log-ins). Health Info Net (HIN) log-ins were also subsequently integrated, as most Swiss doctors are registered on this platform. To make it easier to access the reporting platform, we also integrated the Federal Administration’s authentication system, eIAM. The steadily growing amount of data to be handled on a daily basis by the platform required a rapid scale-up of system capacity. Our partner ti&m demonstrated its flexibility here, by expanding the system to meet the 50,000 reports expected daily.

During implementation the project faced two big challenges: tremendous time pressure and rigorous data protection requirements. Thanks to the support of ti&m, we created a functional platform in just three weeks. To do so, we needed to use existing processes and infrastructures in relation to those doing the reporting, in order to minimize additional costs for the laboratories, hospitals and doctors. Plus, we needed to implement the platform in an environment that was dealing with particularly sensitive personal data. The current solution meets the highest security requirements in data retention and access regulations.

The ability to record case figures swiftly and comprehensively is a critical factor in the successful monitoring of the situation and in controlling the pandemic. With the explosive rise in case numbers at the outset of he Covid-19 crisis, the system – originally designed for 500 reports a day – was scaled up to 50,000 a day. In collaborationwith our project partner ti&m, we completed our mission in record time. With huge dedication, excellent teamwork, and driven by the rapidly increasing case numbers, a digital reporting system was built in just three weeks. This enabled us to ensure that decision-makers in politics and science had a reliable set of data in front of them every day, allowing them to assess the situation and take whichever measures they deemed necessary.

Andreas Garbin
Andreas Garbin

Andreas Garbin worked on research and digitalization projects at ABB and Axpo before founding the service provider Apexa in 2016, which specializes in the manage-ment of digitalization projects. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the federally certified business informatics engineer from the FOPH has been entrusted with heading the Covid-19 reporting system.