David Gotz, Associate Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) and Assistant Director of the Carolina Health Informatics Program (CHIP), teamed with two other University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers this spring to create an interactive, online visualization system to help public health officials track and respond to COVID-19 deaths.
Project leaders included Smiti Kaul, a computer science master’s student at Carolina, and Cameron Coleman, MD, a preventive medicine resident at the UNC School of Medicine. Kaul is also a research assistant with the Visual Analysis and Communication Laboratory (VACLab), which Gotz directs.
Working with the NC Department of Health and Human Services, the team developed a system that aggregates online datasets for COVID-19 infection rates and morgue utilization. Data is then tabulated at the county and region levels and presented through an interactive, web-based application.
Users can adjust interactive maps and other statistical charts to view live reports of metrics at multiple aggregation levels. This enables health agencies, hospitals, and other key stakeholders to visualize fatality data in real-time and identify areas where extra support might soon be needed.
Kaul, Coleman, and Gotz describe their work in an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) in October (https://doi.org/10.1093/jamia/ocaa146).
According to the article, the project not only represents an important collaboration between local academic researchers, governmental public health practitioners, and emergency management organizations, but also demonstrates how researchers can quickly provide tangible community support during a crisis.
“The three-person multi-disciplinary team that self-assembled to develop the application was able to identify user requirements, consolidate data sources, develop source code, and launch an interactive prototype in under five days,” the article explains. “This rapid start-up was pivotal to the success of the project and required clear communication and teamwork across multiple organizational boundaries.”