Cinchy wants to create a COVID-19 data ‘command centre’ for Canada’s health agencies

A preview of the Cinchy system. Cinchy

The day before Apple and Google announced a partnership to create contact-tracing technology to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic, Cinchy, a data-collaboration technology company, met with the Ontario government to pitch a system that would let public health agencies use data from such technologies securely. 

Through the system, dubbed a “data collaboration command centre,” the Toronto-based company wants to be a “bridge” between third-party organizations that collect data and health-care agencies so they can respond more proactively to crises.

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Talking Point

As countries around the world look to contact-tracing technologies, Cinchy, a Toronto-based data-collaboration company, met with the Ontario government on April 9 to pitch a central platform that would connect Canada’s public health agencies with the data collected by such technology and other sources. The system could help hospitals build data-centric responsive systems that could alert them to any surges and help determine whether they have enough medical supplies. The platform could also help spur data modelling for vaccine research.

“Our technology was purpose-built for these types of scenarios to give rapid agility and incredibly fast delivery, but without the compromise that no one wants, which is to give up their control over their data,” Dan DeMers, Cinchy’s CEO and co-founder, told The Logic. 

Countries around the world are employing contact-tracing technology against COVID-19. While the data it tracks has become a key vehicle in curbing the spread of coronavirus, it’s also raised concerns about privacy and security. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is among the Canadian political leaders to express an interest in using the technology, saying it sounded like “a pretty good idea.” 

Cinchy’s pitch is that it can give public health agencies and hospitals a central platform for any information collected—whether it’s contact-tracing information from smartphone apps or warehouse inventory. That data can then be used to build systems that could alert hospitals to surges in cases or shortages in medical equipment. The information could also help spur modelling for vaccine research. 

Cinchy’s platform does not interact with or own any data that it collects; data owners retain full control and can delete it permanently at any time. All the platform does is link the information together in a highly secure cloud-based virtual brain. That means the data doesn’t need to be moved between those who need it and remains protected in one spot, accessible only to authorized users. The data is also anonymized; in the case of contact-tracing data, for example, hospitals don’t need to know individual people’s names or where they were at a specific moment. 

DeMers said the company had always planned to serve the health-care industry. Founded in 2014, Cinchy was incorporated in 2018 and has about 50 full-time employees, serving clients like TD Bank, RBC, Investissement Québec and Colliers International. The company’s backers include Blindspot, the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund, ScaleUp Ventures and BDC Capital. 

Since March 10, the company has been reaching out to health-care agencies, who were speaking of the importance of data collaboration. It has since submitted its proposal to the Ontario and federal governments, as well as the National Research Council. Ontario is the only one to have met with it so far. 

Prateek Dwivedi was vice-president and chief information officer at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital during the H1N1 pandemic, and recalls the difficulties in getting accurate information from both local and global health agencies. At the time, hospitals were dependent on the data shared on daily phone calls with health-care agencies. Then, like today, surgeries were being cancelled “blindly,” he said. “We were working off anecdotal information rather than accurate information.” 

Data matters in this pandemic even more, according to Dwivedi, who is now Cinchy’s senior health-care consultant, because the nature of the spread is different, especially because people can be asymptomatic for weeks at a time. “With data, you make decisions based on insights, not anecdotes,” he said. “[Doctors] want to know where the flare-ups are; they want to know where my resources are; and they want to know how to get ahead of the virus before it consumes us.” 

According to the company, the discussions with Ontario, which are in the early stage, were positive and included officials from the treasury and health ministries, as well as the Ontario Digital Service. “The Ministry of Health, along with other government partners, meets regularly with stakeholders on a wide variety of issues,” said Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott. “Meeting with groups who have innovative solutions to share on public health measures is part of the regular course of government business and is particularly important in the context of the current COVID-19 outbreak.”

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“We think that this journey we are on with COVID-19 is not unique to a single pandemic, but this is going to happen again and again, because it has happened again and again,” said Dwivedi. “By putting together a proper data collaboration solution for a pandemic that is embedded in the health-care system, we’re hoping it can be used all the time and continually rather than in emergency situations.

“I assure you that if we had this at each hospital during H1N1, I would have been a lot more relaxed as the CIO of a hospital because I would actually have the data in front of me to help guide the organization.”