Coronavirus sampling points were opened up in the spring jointly by HUS and local authorities at a brisk pace. During the summer and early autumn, responsibility for sampling was gradually transferred to the HUS Diagnostics Center.
The first coronavirus samples were taken in isolation rooms at the infectious diseases ward and at emergency clinics. It soon became apparent that wider-scale testing was required. We opened our first drive-in testing point at the New Children’s Hospital on March 2, 2020. This was followed by further drive-in testing points across the HUS area. Coronavirus samples were also taken at hospital emergency clinics, municipal testing points and infection health centers and clinics.
The sampling criteria were strict at the start of the pandemic, and they have since been revised multiple times. In mid-March, we launched the Coronabot to help the general public evaluate their symptoms and a Controlbot for sampling to assist personnel staffing municipal helplines. At the beginning of April, HUS became the first in Finland to expand the testing criteria, encouraging everyone with any symptoms potentially indicating a coronavirus infection to get tested.
Testing responsibility assigned to HUS Diagnostics Center
In the summer, action was taken to transfer responsibility for sampling, previously conducted by HUS departments, hospital areas and local authorities, to the HUS Diagnostics Center. By October, we completed a network for coronavirus testing managed by the HUS Diagnostics Center, consisting of both our own and subcontractors’ sampling points. There were nearly 50 sampling points in all.
In addition to testing at sampling points, we ran mass tests on construction sites and at educational institutions and set up a testing facility at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. A digital service named FINENTRY was devised in consultation with the border control authorities, regional administration, the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health for the purpose of referring passengers arriving from abroad to coronavirus testing.
With this centralization, the HUS Diagnostics Center assumed overall responsibility for both sampling and coronavirus sample analysis. Centralizing the sampling improved the quality and safety of the sampling through standardization while also enabling efficient logistics and flexible deployment of resources according to the situation at hand. Comprehensive real-time reporting became possible through the use of compatible IT systems.
Self-service appointment booking with the Coronabot
At the beginning of September, we introduced self-service appointment booking for coronavirus testing in the HUS area. Dubbed the Coronabot, this service performs a survey of symptoms and exposure. The user can then book an appointment at a sampling point of their choice, and the software automatically generates a test request. Having booked the appointment, the customer receives a confirming text message giving the time of the appointment and instructions on how to find the location. The test results are also communicated by text message when they are completed.
In addition to the online booking, it is still also possible to book an appointment by phone. However, the online appointment service reduced congestion on the municipal coronavirus helplines. More than 370,000 tests were booked using the Coronabot by the end of the year (i.e. from September 8 to December 31, 2020). By December, 70% of tests were being booked online.