Contact tracing with a real-time location system: A case study of increasing relative effectiveness in an emergency department

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Contact tracing is the systematic method of identifying individuals potentially exposed to infectious diseases. Electronic medical record (EMR) use for contact tracing is time-consuming and may miss exposed individuals. Real-time location systems (RTLSs) may improve contact identification. Therefore, the relative effectiveness of these 2 contact tracing methodologies were evaluated.


During a pertussis outbreak in the United States, a retrospective case study was conducted between June 14 and August 31, 2016, to identify the contacts of confirmed pertussis cases, using EMR and RTLS data in the emergency department of a tertiary care medical center. Descriptive statistics and a paired t test (α = 0.05) were performed to compare contacts identified by EMR versus RTLS, as was correlation between pertussis patient length of stay and the number of potential contacts.


Nine cases of pertussis presented to the emergency department during the identified time period. RTLS doubled the potential exposure list (P < .01). Length of stay had significant positive correlation with contacts identified by RTLS (ρ = 0.79; P = .01) but not with EMR (ρ = 0.43; P = .25).


RTLS doubled the potential pertussis exposures beyond EMR-based contact identification. Thus, RTLS may be a valuable addition to the practice of contact tracing and infectious disease monitoring.

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