A mobile app, from a small central Vancouver Island medical software company, gathers a cell phone’s GPS data that can be used for contact tracing when people are exposed to COVID-19. (Photo submitted)

A mobile app, from a small central Vancouver Island medical software company, gathers a cell phone’s GPS data that can be used for contact tracing when people are exposed to COVID-19. (Photo submitted)

Vancouver Island medical software company creates COVID-19 contact tracing app

Creators of GPS-based app say it could save lives at a critical time in the pandemic

A small central Vancouver Island medical applications software company has developed a COVID-19 contact tracing app that it says could speed up the process and save lives.

Parksville-based Verified Network was founded in 2013 to develop applications that allow medical professionals to conduct secure communications, including video conferencing, and share medical records between doctors, specialists and patients.

This week the company is releasing Verified TrackBack, a mobile app that alerts users if they’ve potentially been exposed to COVID-19.

The app works by recording GPS data from the user’s cell phone – there is no communication with other phones or devices – for 20 days, a period several days longer than the COVID-19 incubation period. Data older than 20 days is discarded.

“The idea was that we’d create an app that the individual can carry around in their day-to-day life without even thinking about it, but if they get into a situation where they do become symptomatic or have been exposed to COVID, they’ll need to be able to say, well, these are the folks that I’ve been in contact with, these are the locations I’ve visited over a period of time,” said Andy Chapman, Verified Network chief executive officer and software developer.

READ ALSO: Contact tracing is crucial, says medical health officer

COVID Alert, a contact tracing app currently used by the federal government, relies on Bluetooth to function. The problem with that arrangement, Chapman said, is the user must have Bluetooth turned on, so there’s added drain on the phone’s battery, and the phone is continually communicating with other devices via Bluetooth, which he said is worrisome because one doesn’t know what information is being communicated to other devices within a 15- to 20-metre radius.

“The way our app works is a little bit different,” Chapman said. “The individual can turn it on or off at any time and all it does is store GPS location.”

Should a cell phone’s owner develop COVID symptoms, the stored GPS data could be used, for example, by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s contact tracing staff allowing the CDC to relay to Island Health that there was a potential exposure at a specific place and time.

“Or, through our application, they can actually send a note to any other [app user] that was in the same location or time frame,” Chapman said. “So if there happened to be three, five, 10 other people using the app in that location, our app would send a notification through saying you’ve been exposed or potentially exposed. You should probably contact your health care provider … We don’t use Bluetooth and we certainly don’t share any information that is personal to that individual. The only information we capture is the unique device ID … and the co-ordinates related to that device, the GPS latitude and longitude.”

Three weeks of time and location data can quickly offer accurate contact tracing, the company said, which can benefit the user, businesses the user visited, and health authorities.

The more people who have the app, the more effective it is at being able to provide warnings, so Verified Network is offering it free for individuals.

Chapman said the app can also be used as a personal tracker for sports and outdoor activities and personal safety.

READ ALSO: Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

Dr. Julian Lisinski, a long-time Ladysmith family and ER physician, Verified Network’s medical advisor and one of the company’s founders, said he has been in contact with Island Health, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and other government contacts across Canada about the app and the company will demonstrate it to representatives at McMaster University this week.

As numbers of COVID infections continue to rise during the pandemic’s second phase and vaccines are weeks to months away from being widely available, he said, the app could save lives.

“We’re trying to get the word out that there is an app that is free on an individual basis, that we are convinced – I am convinced as a physician – that if enough people had this app, the contact tracing for COVID would be speeded up significantly,” Lisinski said. “This app would save lives and it’s such a simple thing to do … we need to get this app out because it will make a massive difference at a time that is critical.”

Verified TrackBack is currently being reviewed by Apple App Store and Google Play and could be available for download as of Friday, Dec. 11. For more information, visit http://verifiedtrackback.ca.

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READ ALSO: Stay informed about COVID-19



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