At South Australia’s Covid-19 Command Centre, TV screens line the wall. Some are filled with charts and graphs; others map virus hotspots or monitor flights coming into the state.

This is the center of South Australia’s efforts to contain the outbreak. Dozens of staff from multiple agencies come together to coordinate the state’s response to the pandemic.

Data has proven crucial in this fight, says Nathan Janes, Associate Director of Data Operations at South Australia (SA) Health. He discusses how the agency built data dashboards to fight the virus.

Building data dashboards

When South Australia saw its first few Covid-19 cases trickle in, it was difficult to identify how the infections started and what the right measures would be.

“It was a bit of a guessing game to start with”, he says. Janes’ team built data dashboards to identify where clusters were popping up. This allowed the Centre to identify patterns and intervene quickly.

South Australia is in the midst of its vaccine rollout, and Janes’ team is looking forward to developing its analytics platforms to assist this effort. The health agency plans to use data to ensure vaccines are distributed accurately, and that remote populations are not left out.

SA Health’s analytics platform links to the state’s hospital systems, which enabled the Centre to track infected patients the moment they were identified. Janes’ team then had the capability to link this data with hospital systems to enable better management of the patient’s Covid case.

“It was quite difficult to manage the resources, but having the right tools in place allowed us to do it,” he says. The processing power on its current analytics platform enabled the agency to build these dashboards in a couple of days.

Its previous investments in training staff also paid off, Janes says. SA Health had run data literacy programmes prior to Covid-19 – enabling it to quickly deploy staff to the Centre.

Creating a central data hub

Before Covid-19 hit, the health agency had created a central repository of all datasets collected across the health system. Known as the Quality, Information and Performance Hub, it allowed all local health networks to access data that were not previously available.

The Hub proved useful during the pandemic. It allowed SA Health to see where outbreaks were popping up, then quickly set up testing clinics in those areas, Janes says.

Lessons for sharing data

The Covid-19 Command Centre brought together more than 13 agencies, and data had to be shared quickly to coordinate the state’s pandemic response.

Janes’ team extended existing data sharing agreements, and managed to bring in other agencies. But it was a “really difficult situation”, he says, as some systems were not geared for data sharing.

“It’s something that we’ve had to evolve with, and we still are evolving to this date,” he adds. This was a good lesson learnt – the agency realised the “need to have better, agile ways of sharing information when required”.

Data has proven crucial in South Australia’s effort to use data to tackle Covid-19. Lessons learnt from building data dashboards and sharing data will certainly prepare the state for future emergencies.