CDC Launches COVID-19 Bot to Help You Decide If You Need to See a Doctor
The Coronavirus Self-Checker, a Microsoft-powered health care tool, was built to alleviate some of the initial screening strains health care providers are experiencing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a COVID-19 assessment bot Thursday to help initially screen Americans who are concerned they’re suffering from symptoms connected to the novel coronavirus.
The new, conversational bot—deemed the Coronavirus Self-Checker on the agency’s website—can gauge the risk factors and symptoms for people who engage with it, and offer insights into next moves they should consider in support of their health.
The bot doesn’t make a diagnosis or offer treatment plans, but it is meant to act as a guide to help people discern if they should seek certain medical care.
According to a blog post published by two Microsoft officials Friday, the move marks the latest example of a U.S. health organization tapping into the tech giant’s Healthcare Bot service, which the company is offering to those “on the frontline” free of charge to help eliminate bottlenecks in the contemporary health system of patients hoping to make sense of their symptoms.
CDC’s new bot can “quickly assess the symptoms and risk factors for people worried about infection, provide information and suggest a next course of action such as contacting a medical provider or, for those who do not need in-person medical care, managing the illness safely at home,” Hadas Bitran, group manager, Microsoft Healthcare Israel, and Jean Gabarra, general manager, Health AI, wrote.
In a deliberate effort to help free up health care professionals to treat patients in dire need, Microsoft opted to freely offer up COVID-19 response templates through its Healthcare Bot service, which the officials said customers can use and modify to rapidly deploy artificial intelligence-powered chatbots of their own to assess potential patients, before they head in for care. The Healthcare Bot product itself is a cloud service “that empowers healthcare organizations to build and deploy,” customizable, AI-powered virtual health assistants and chatbots “to enhance their processes, self-service, and cost reduction efforts.” And the newly introduced templates include a risk assessment based on CDC guidelines, clinical triage based on CDC protocols, up-to-date answers to frequently asked questions and worldwide metrics—all related to COVID-19.
On top of the CDC, the Southeast health care provider Novant Health, the Seattle-based Virginia Mason Health System and Providence, one of America’s largest health care systems, have all deployed COVID-19 bots or tools powered by Microsoft’s initiative.
“Across all users, customized instances of Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service are now fielding more than 1 million messages per day from members of the public who are concerned about COVID-19 infections—a number we expect to escalate quickly to meet growing needs,” Bitran and Gabarra wrote.
Regarding privacy and data collection considerations related to the efforts, a Microsoft spokesperson told Nextgov Friday that while the CDC’s bot runs on Microsoft Azure (the company’s cloud computing service), the government agency owns and maintains the tool.
“The CDC does not share any of the personal information you provide to the Triage Bot with Microsoft,” the spokesperson said.