One of the more frustrating parts of the vaccine phase of the COVID-19 pandemic is just getting registered for a vaccine. Right now there is more demand than there is supply and until those two things even out, there will be hordes of people scrambling to get registered for the vaccine and then to get vaccinated.
What's more, the roll out across the country has been uneven as each local county is responsible for its own registration and distribution of the vaccines. In some places there seems to be enough, and many residents have moved on from phase 1A. In other places if vaccinations continue at the current rate they may make it through phase 1A sometime in August.
Counties may not be able to control the supply of vaccine they are receiving from their states. But one county in Texas proved that it could handle the big job of vaccine distribution.
At first, Tarrant County's public health department thought that it would only play a small role in the overall vaccine distribution in the county. Maybe they would be responsible for first responders, for instance, according to Angela Hagy, deputy director of public health at Tarrant County Public Health.
"Then as the vaccine got closer to being rolled out, it became clear we weren't going to become a bigger part of the plan because we were the whole plan," Hagy told InformationWeek. The original idea of using an electronic medical record system to manage the vaccine roll out was clearly not going to work. EMRs are great for their intended purpose, but not designed to handle the public load of thousands of people signing up, said Hagy.
The team needed something that could be stood up quickly by non-technologists. The database and data ingestion tool with a web front end would have to be a low-code or no-code solution that semi-tech savvy public health officials could learn to use quickly. The tool would also need to be scalable enough to handle the thousands of users a day who were registering for vaccines.
Tarrant County turned to a tool it used a year ago at the start of the pandemic to assist in PPE distribution -- Quickbase. If that name sounds familiar it's probably because Quickbase is the relational database system that was owned by Intuit for most of its life until just a few years ago when Intuit divested, selling the software to Welsh Carson Anderson & Stowe in 2016. In January 2019, Vista Equity Partners bought majority equity in Quickbase for more than $1 billion.
Although originally developed in 1999 as OneBase at a time when most databases were on-premises systems, this database software was created as a web-based, multi-tenant service. It has always been based in the cloud, CEO Ed Jennings told InformationWeek. Jennings said that Quickbase is a full relational database enabling workflow applications, integration with other tools such as drag and drop functionality with all major cloud providers.
Those foundations and the database tool's evolution over the years made it the right choice for Tarrant County in December 2020 as the public health department sought technology that it could quickly configure and deploy as a web-facing sign-up for those seeking vaccinations.
In addition to PPE distribution, Tarrant County had also successfully used Quickbase as the engine behind its contact case investigation tracing. The county is up to 246,000 cases processed through the system. Because Quickbase is managed in the cloud, cases could be assigned to remote workers who did not have access to the internal office networks.
Tarrant County had a similar experience with the vaccine registrations, setting up the web-facing form within a couple days to collect patient information.
The tool has had a big impact on vaccine registrations in the county.
In the first few days of operation in December 2020, 41,000 users were able to register for their vaccines. The tool is currently enabling registration of tens of thousands of people a day, Hagy said. Right now, Tarrant County has over 800,000 people in its system signed up for vaccines. They have given out 474,000 appointments to vaccine providers in their network. Hagy said that the county builds the list and then shares it with health systems and other providers who have clinics. Once the vaccination is completed, the county receives a record back from the provider.
"Huge numbers of people every day are signing up," Hagy said. "I'm most proud of the fact that within a couple of days we were able to get this up and running."