How Technology Can Curb the Spread of COVID-19

May 18, 2020

Contributor: Kasey Panetta

Reduce the spread of COVID-19 using gamification and technology.

As governments explore different options for reducing the spread of COVID-19 after lifting some shelter-in-place and essential-only orders, gamification may be an answer. 

People are familiar with gamification principles used to inspire behaviors like weight loss or increased movement, but they also can be used to encourage many other behaviors by focusing on helping people achieve their individual goals. 

For example, China’s Health Code app displays a colored “badge” to represent the health status of an individual: Green for the ability to freely travel and yellow or red to indicate the person should alert authorities. While there are concerns about the app’s transparency and data collection, similar options with transparent criteria for badge colors might work in other countries. 

“If governments are to reopen schools and workplaces and allow the resumption of social interaction, we need a fine-grained approach to minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, while maximizing freedoms on an individual basis,” says Brian Burke, Research VP, Gartner. “We need technology solutions to enable transmission-reduction strategies, automate monitoring and drive scale quickly.”

There are two types of approaches to using technology to fight COVID-19. Proactive technology encourages behaviors to prevent the spread, including washing hands and social distancing. Reactive technology, which has been a focal point for many countries, focuses more on activities after a risk incident has occurred, such as contact tracing and quarantine enforcement. 

Contact tracing: Privacy versus protection

Earlier this year, Singapore launched the TraceTogether app, which uses Bluetooth to trace interactions between users of the app. The app stores data on individual phones, but in the event of a positive COVID-19 result, authorities will request the data to alert those who may have been exposed.

As a by-product of contact tracing, the total number of close contacts is also counted. Reducing and containing the spread of the virus at a macro level will require limiting the maximum number of social interactions to a level that is within the healthcare system’s ability to cope. Imagine if everyone had a limited budget of close contacts to manage as they like. Different people would choose different activities as their top priorities.

“ Leaders can look to apps that focus on gamification as a way to encourage specific behaviors like hand washing”

Gamification offers the opportunity to do the things that are the most important and skip those that matter less. Right now, governments are deciding between allowing people to go to restaurants versus attending a choir practice or participating in a team sport. People should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves. 

As countries move away from total lockdowns, contact tracing will remain a key part of reducing transmissions. In addition to this functionality, enterprise architects and technology innovation leaders can look to apps that focus on gamification as a way to encourage specific behaviors like hand washing or reduced social interaction. 

Gamification to curb the spread of coronavirus

Gamification can be used to encourage more preventative behaviors and reduce transmission altogether. These behaviors should include: 

  • Social distance
  • Good hygiene
  • Screening 

For social distancing, an app could provide a “score” for how well a user minimized contact with others and award points for things like visiting the grocery store during off-peak hours or going for a walk in the park with friends versus sitting down for dinner at a crowded restaurant. 

“ It’s possible to reward low-risk individuals with access to specific buildings like a gym”

When it comes to hygiene, the app could remind people to wash their hands every two hours, or offer rewards for disinfecting door handles or using hand sanitizer after being on public transportation. For screening, it’s possible to reward low-risk individuals with access to specific buildings like a gym or restaurant and offer those at a higher risk access only to essential buildings like grocery stores or pharmacies. 

“Gamification can let people choose to participate in the activities that are a high priority to them, and forgo those that are not. It can provide people with a budget of social contacts to manage themselves,” says Burke. 

Experience Chief Technology Officer conferences

Join your peers for the unveiling of the latest insights at Gartner conferences.