Personalised strategies guard those at increased risk of COVID-19 in western Sydney

Westmead Hospital emergency department staff specialist Dr Amith Shetty.

Almost 15,000 western Sydney residents with an increased risk of contracting coronavirus have been identified and given personalised and proactive strategies to help keep them safe, thanks to an initiative that could be scaled across the state.

Using electronic medical record (EMR) data from Westmead, Blacktown, Mount Druitt and Auburn Hospitals’ emergency departments between 2017 and 2019, Western Sydney Local Health District (LHD) and eHealth NSW’s Data and Analytics Portfolio pinpointed patients whose pre-existing conditions put them at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Local knowledge and insights from EMR data helped us to identify and take care of people facing a high risk of bad outcomes,” said Dr Shetty, an emergency department physician at Westmead Hospital and Clinical Director of Patient Experience and System Performance Support, Ministry of Health.

Using at-risk criteria based on international literature, some 14,702 patients with conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, respiratory disease, kidney disease and recent cancer diagnoses were flagged as high-risk.

The analysis allowed Western Sydney LHD to implement personalised and proactive health management strategies to minimise these people’s exposure to the pandemic, which to date has infected more than 9 million people globally.

This formed part of a community-based management plan to mitigate individual risks through direct follow-up with the patients.

These strategies included additional health advice for Aboriginal patients post discharge, and specific SMS messaging for cardiology and endocrinology patients about ways in which to stay safe from COVID-19.

eHealth NSW Senior Data Scientist Dr Mostafa Shaikh said the data flagged 33 medical conditions, enabling clinicians to define their own at-risk patient cohorts by combining conditions such as type 1 diabetes with hypertension and asthma.

“This meant clinicians could easily identify ahead of time the patients that they would monitor for increased risk of contraction based on learnings from previous patients with similar conditions,” said Dr Shaikh.

“Due to the success of this initiative, eHealth NSW is investigating the potential for scaling it across NSW Health.”