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Ariadne Labs Releases Report Detailing How South Korea is Protecting Health Care Workers During COVID-19

Country’s low health care worker infection rate offers valuable lessons for leaders; Research draws on interviews with front-line workers and health care system leaders in South Korea and a review of the country’s national and hospital protocols.

BOSTONMay 12, 2020 — Ariadne Labs today released an Evidence Brief titled “Protecting Health Care Workers in South Korea During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The research, rapidly developed through interviews and a review of the country’s protocols, outlines how South Korea has successfully maintained one of the world’s lowest rates of COVID-19 infections in health care workers.

Health care workers around the world have been on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19. Given that hospitals are active battlegrounds for health care workers, protecting them is critical as their safety is tied to the integrity of the medical system and wellbeing of the public. Unfortunately, countries around the globe are struggling to minimize infection among this group.

This research details how South Korea continues to employ a multi-pronged strategy to protect health care workers, which involves centralized coordination and triage, local adaptation of key protocols and principles, and strong public health efforts to limit community transmission including physical distancing, contact tracing, and an aggressive approach to testing, isolation, and treatment.

Developed by Ariadne Labs’ COVID-19 Community Mitigation Global Learnings team, the research was driven by June-Ho Kim, MD, MPH and a team of volunteers from Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It is the culmination of a rapid investigation, completed in less than a month, that draws on interviews with front-line health care workers and system leaders in South Korea, along with an in-depth review of national guidelines from Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) and hospital-level protocols.

“Early on, South Korea emerged as a leader in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and successfully protecting its health care workers while the country experienced a surge in cases,” said Kim, a member of Ariadne Labs’ Primary Health Care team and an internist and Fellow in General Medicine & Primary Care at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “We set out to identify key strategies to protect health care workers and maintain resilient health systems. We didn’t think these solutions needed to be invented; we felt like the best solutions might be just across the ocean.”

“COVID-19 continues to place inordinate pressure on health care systems around the globe. Health care systems and leaders are looking for evidence-based guidance on how to respond quickly and effectively,” said Asaf Bitton, MD, MPH, Executive Director of Ariadne Labs and a senior adviser on the Evidence Brief. “This research was the culmination of global, interdisciplinary collaboration and will allow us to develop insights into what lessons countries worldwide can draw from their experience.”

“I believe South Korea has been successful because so many people came together and prepared after experiencing the 2015 MER-CoV outbreak,” said Hong Bin Kim, MD, FIDSA, Chief Quality and Patient Safety Officer at Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, who contributed to this research as an interviewee and reviewer for the Evidence Brief. “But, as Yogi Berra once said, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’ As we reflect on the current pandemic response through our collaboration with Ariadne Labs, together we can prepare for a better future.”

Rapid completion of the South Korea research was made possible through Ariadne Labs’ collaboration with The Covid Translate Project, a global volunteer initiative founded to quickly translate and disseminate documents published by Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to help other countries fight COVID-19. To date, materials have been translated into seven languages and shared with partners in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In addition to focusing on South Korea’s strategies to protect health care workers, Ariadne Labs has also been investigating, more broadly, other elements of the country’s successful mitigation efforts.

A complementary publication in Health Systems and Reform examines South Korea’s national response, giving a wide look at successful components of the country’s COVID-19 response, with particular focus on measures taken to flatten the curve and minimize economic effects. The paper was authored by a team of experts including members of Ariadne Labs’ Primary Health Care team, Dan Schwarz, MD, MPH, Hannah Ratcliffe, MSc, and Lisa Hirschhorn, MD, MPH.

Forthcoming research from Ariadne Labs on South Korea will include case studies on how health systems in the cities of Daegu and Seoul responded to the pandemic.

About Ariadne Labs

Ariadne Labs is a joint health systems innovation center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. We develop simple, scalable solutions that dramatically improve the delivery of health care at critical moments to save lives and reduce suffering. Our vision is for health systems to deliver the best possible care for every patient, everywhere, every time. Visit ariadnelabs.org to learn more.

Media contact: Brigid Tsai, btsai@ariadnelabs.org