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Changes in public preferences for technologically enhanced surveillance following the COVID-19 pandemic: a discrete choice experiment

23 November 2020
MBI research into technologically enhanced surveillance following the COVID-19 pandemic
As governments attempt to navigate a path out of COVID-19 restrictions, robust evidence is essential to inform requirements for public acceptance of technologically enhanced communicable disease surveillance systems. We examined the value of core surveillance system attributes to the Australian public, before and during the early stages of the current pandemic.

Chris Degeling, Gang Chen, Gwendolyn L Gilbert, Victoria Brookes, Thi Thai, Andrew Wilson, Jane Johnson


Design A discrete choice experiment was conducted in Australia with a representative group of respondents, before and after the WHO declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. We identified and investigated the relative importance of seven attributes associated with technologically enhanced disease surveillance: respect for personal autonomy; privacy/confidentiality; data certainty/confidence; data security; infectious disease mortality prevention; infectious disease morbidity prevention; and attribution of (causal) responsibility. Specifically, we explored how the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak influenced participant responses.

Setting and participants 2008 Australians (general public) completed the experiment: 793 before COVID-19 outbreak onset (mean age 45.9 years, 50.2% male) and 1215 after onset (mean age 47.2 years, 49% male).

Results All seven attributes significantly influenced respondents’ preferences for communicable disease surveillance systems. After onset, participants demonstrated greater preference for a surveillance system that could prevent a higher number of illnesses and deaths, and were less concerned about their personal autonomy. However, they also increased their preference for a system with high data security.

Conclusions Public acceptance of technology-based communicable disease surveillance is situation dependent. During an epidemic, there is likely to be greater tolerance of technologically enhanced disease surveillance systems that result in restrictions on personal activity if such systems can prevent high morbidity and mortality. However, this acceptance of lower personal autonomy comes with an increased requirement to ensure data security. These findings merit further research as the pandemic unfolds and strategies are put in place that enable individuals and societies to live with SARS-CoV-2 endemicity.

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