Contact tracing app pilot begins in Vaasa

The application is intended to provide secure reporting of any encounters between users.

Hospital employees taking part in the pilot have installed the test app on their smart phones. Image: Vaasan sairaanhoitopiiri

A three-week pilot of an app for identifying coronavirus chains of infection has been launched at Vaasa Central Hospital.

The pilot, which started on Monday, is being conducted among hospital staff to test the functionality of the Bluetooth technology used for tracing coronavirus infections in the application and its background system.

The project, funded by Finnish innovation fund Sitra, involves 33 employees at Vaasa Central Hospital. Known as "Ketju" ("chain" in Finnish) the pilot will not utilise participants' authentic patient information, but is rather a simulation being run as a test. Developers say that if necessary, the application developed for the pilot can be tailored and expanded for national use.

"It's great to be involved in looking for ways to bring the epidemic under control," says Tarja Makkonen, a ward nurse taking part in the pilot.

Makkonen adds that initially, however, she had concerns about the app's security.

"Those concerns subsided when I heard how the Ketju app works," she told Yle.

Simulated infections

Some of the 33 participants in the pilot at the hospital will also keep a written record of people they interact with over the next three weeks. This will allow for a comparison of digitally identified contacts with real-world encounters.

The application uses Bluetooth technology to anonymously record any encounters between application users. The app uses the wireless technology to "see" when one of the app's users has been within two metres of another user for more than 15 minutes. If one of them ends up being infected, the app will help health authorities to reach out to those with whom they came into close contact.

In the pilot phase, the only information the application stores about the user is the phone number, which is not disclosed to other users. The service is not connected to any patient information systems, and the pilot environment uses only simulated diagnoses.

Sitra says that while the Ketju application should enable effective digital identification of those exposed to coronavirus, it is not intended to replace tracing and testing carried out by the health authorities, but rather to support and enhance the process.

Open-source code

The pilot will continue through the first week of June, and both project data and the app's source code will be made publicly available in Finland.

"We want to make sure that a reliable, polished, and secure national solution for digitally tracing the infection chain can be developed for Finland," says Sitra's capacity for renewal project head Antti Kivelä.

The Ketju app has been jointly developed by software companies Reaktor and Futurice as well as data security company Fraktal. The application has been delivered by the healthcare and social services sector ICT company 2M-IT.