The CDC has adopted Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service to create a COVID-19 assessment chatbot to screen Americans who may be unsure whether to seek medical care. The Coronavirus Self Checker bot asks a series of questions based on CDC guidelines about symptoms (such as shortness of breath or dizziness) and risk factors (like underlying medical conditions or exposure to someone else with the virus) and suggests next steps, including whether to self-isolate, consult with a telehealth professional, or visit an emergency room.
The CDC’s chatbot provides links to more information and local health department contacts but does not have information about coronavirus testing sites. It also does not diagnose or give treatment plans other than general advice such as “stay home and take care of yourself” or “call 911.” The bot appears to be a possible way to reassure the so-called “worried well” that their symptoms likely don’t require medical attention, which in turn can free up doctors and emergency rooms for patients who are legitimately ill with the coronavirus.
The chatbot runs on Microsoft Azure, but the CDC owns and maintains the tool and does not share any personal information users enter into the bot with Microsoft, according to Nextgov.
Versions of the chatbot are already online at nine health systems, with more coming online soon, the Wall Street Journal reports. Healthcare provider Providence launched a limited version of the bot on March 5th, opening it to all users March 8th, according to the WSJ, and says the bot has had more than 40,000 sessions and more than 6,000 hand-offs to video consultation so far.
“It’s just something consumers need now to help with anxiety,” Maryam Gholami of Providence told the WSJ.