The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Microsoft have teamed up to make a bot that can triage people who are showing symptoms that could be related to COVID-19 or other serious cold and flu conditions. The bot is called Clara and is available on the CDC’s website here (click the green “Coronavirus Self-Checker” banner to launch it). Once you’ve launched Clara, the bot will ask you a series of questions, which aims to determine if the symptoms you are experiencing mean you should seek immediate medical help.
Users tell the bot which state they live in, their age, gender, and whether they have any life-threatening symptoms from a list provided by Clara. Based on the results, Clara will offer advice on the next steps, which could include telling the user to “call 911 now.”
The aim of Clara is not only to help people better understand the severity of their symptoms and what steps they should take (if any) to combat them but to lessen the burden on health officials from triaging people at medical facilities such as doctors’ offices or ERs. Many of those facilities, if not already overwhelmed, soon could be. As Microsoft explained in a blog post announcing the bot initiative with the CDC:
Public health organizations, hospitals and others on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response need to be able to respond to inquiries, provide the public with up-to-date outbreak information, track exposure, quickly triage new cases and guide next steps. Many have expressed great concern about the overwhelming demand COVID-19 is creating on resources such as urgent, emergency and nursing care.
In particular, the need to screen patients with any number of cold or flu-like symptoms — to determine who has high enough risk factors to need access to limited medical resources and which people may more safely care for themselves at home — is a bottleneck that threatens to overwhelm health systems coping with the crisis.
It’s important to note, however, that Clara is not intended to diagnose any possible conditions, including COVID-19 infections. As the bot states when you first launch it: “The purpose of the Coronavirus Self-Checker is to help you make decisions about seeking appropriate medical care.”
Microsoft isn’t the only tech giant that has created tools for remote triaging. Over the weekend, Apple pushed out an update to Siri that allows users to ask, “Hey Siri, do I have the coronavirus?” Siri will then ask the user a number of questions and suggest whether they should seek further medical help.