With the COVID-19 pandemic and now the deluge of children’s respiratory illnesses in Ontario hospitals, keeping track of facts and figures across the province is more important than ever. It might surprise some to learn that the system health-care providers and fact finders rely on to track this important data was configured and is still controlled right here in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health region.
The system was developed by Dr. Kieran Moore, former Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for KFL&A Public Health and now Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario, with the assistance of many associates. This was done as one of the responses to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Canada. Most of the SARS infections originated in Toronto hospitals. The outbreak led to the quarantine of thousands, killed 44 people, and took an economic toll on Toronto. It also exposed the country’s ill-prepared health-care system, many health-care critics and experts have asserted since.
The Acute Care Enhanced Surveillance (ACES) system monitors triage (emergency department visit) and inpatient (admission to hospital) records from over 95 per cent of Ontario’s acute care hospitals to provide real-time epidemiological surveillance for Ontario.
Dr. Piotr Oglaza, the current MOH with KFL&A Public Health, calls ACES “a very important and useful tool” for researchers and the press to use because “seeing what the situation is across the province and quantifying the degree to which respiratory season is impacting acute care is really an important message to convey.”
Though the tool was implemented before Oglaza’s time at the helm of KFL&A Public Health, he says, “I think it’s a really well thought-out and developed tool.”
While ACES is the data collection tool, the data is displayed on the ‘Viral Respiratory Mapper.’ Currently, when visiting the Mapper there is a pop-up advising “The Viral Respiratory Mapper has been re-branded and updated for the 2022/2023 respiratory season. The new mapper has also moved and is now located at: https://www.kflaphi.ca/viral-respiratory-mapper-visits/.”
Oglaza explained that The Viral Respiratory Mapper KFL&A Public Health tool was “rebranded” in that KFL&A Public Health staff renamed it and incorporated the Influenza-like Illness Mapper and the Pandemic Tracker into one dashboard. It is a new dashboard containing two types of data instead of having separate dashboards (previously the Influenza-like Illness Mapper and Pandemic Tracker), and therefore it needed a new name.
“What we currently see is the ‘Viral Respiratory Mapper.’ It was launched this fall, and it merged the two existing previous tools,” said Oglaza.
“Originally when this tool was created, it was created for respiratory illness. And then, parallel to that, there was a pandemic tracker that had the COVID-19 data. No, it’s looking at data for all respiratory visits, [which] includes COVID-19, as well.”
As patients are being treated, their records are monitored, giving real-time situational awareness of disease outbreaks and other potential health risks. Hospital visits are monitored with a sliding scale of precision, from a province-wide assessment, to our smallest level of geography, the FSA (forward sortation area, the first three characters of Canadian postal codes).
Oglaza pointed out that the tool is still maintained by KFL&A Public Health staff with funding from the provincial Ministry of Health, and is used by Public Health providers across Ontario. He also explained that ACES has built-in temporal and spatial capabilities to enable Public Health staff to be better informed on the health of the community, in order to improve Public Health protection and prevention initiatives.
“These tools are using real-time data through the acute care enhanced surveillance system, which is basically feeding Emergency Department data to KFL&A Public Health, which is then being coded, analyzed, and then put out in [the] form of these useful graphs and tools,” he said.