How symptom checkers are helping us deal with the pandemic

Photo of Aleksandra KwiecieńAleksandra Kwiecień
December 8, 2020
... min read

The tools helping to assess the risk of coronavirus disease appeared almost immediately after the pandemic was announced. Although they are not a panacea to all COVID-19-related challenges, symptom checkers have proved to be an excellent partner for various health organizations, as well as individuals.
Fighting coronavirus pandemic with information. Illustration by Tomasz Tuz.

Crises similar to the COVID-19 pandemic show us that, as important as providing adequate medical care is, providing reliable information is crucial to support people in making the right decisions. This attitude is essential on many levels and in many areas, and this is the task that COVID-19 risk assessment tools seem to fill in perfectly.

Do my symptoms indicate COVID-19? Where should I look for help? How many patients actually have symptoms of the coronavirus? Which hospitals will see an increased wave of SARS-Cov-2-related patients? These are just some of the questions that the online symptom checker, connected with hospital records, can answer.

What actually are COVID-19 symptom checkers?

There are multiple solutions on the market that allow for the analysis of coronavirus symptoms. When looking for the most accurate symptom checkers keep in mind that there are specialized ones based on guidelines from international health organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that have the most up-to-date information on the new virus. Look for them under names such as COVID-19 checker, COVID-19 calculators, COVID-19 risk assessment, or COVID-19 bot, and you'll get the impression of how many there are already.

Some of them are publicly available to anyone looking for SARS-Cov-2 information. CDC's Coronavirus Self-Checker, for instance, which, after an interview, provide an initial diagnosis and recommendation of the most appropriate help level that the user should look for. Others, implemented by specific healthcare providers, go a step further and offer appropriate medical care offered by a given facility. Such solutions have been implemented by Cigna, Virginia Mason Health System, and Novant Health.

Ways in which symptom checkers fights COVID-19

Although COVID-19 symptom checkers do not provide a complete diagnosis of coronavirus patients nor their treatment, their usage brings important benefits in fighting the pandemic. The most important of them, depending on the way the respective symptom checker is implemented, include:

Soothing patients

In times when many people are concerned about getting sick, it is very easy to panic. This is especially true when local administrations and healthcare providers do not manage to answer all the enquiries of worried individuals, among which include those who likely don’t have coronavirus, in a short time. In this situation, symptom checkers fill in as the first line of contact for patients and bring peace to many stressed people.

Fast assessment of symptoms

The essential feature of symptom checkers is the fast and accurate analysis of disease evidence. People checking their symptoms with online symptom checkers get their initial diagnoses in just a few moments. In the case of COVID-19, this can be crucial for prompt testing, treatment, and cutting down the spread of the virus.

A person with an initial diagnosis revealing COVID-19 should self-isolate and contact the appropriate medical facility for help.

It is also worth mentioning the symptom checkers examining a wide spectrum of symptoms can additionally support patients without coronavirus symptoms in the fast assessment of their health and reaching the right doctor, thus avoiding the presence in currently overburdened healthcare facilities, or cutting this time to the necessary minimum.

Next steps recommendations

Along with the initial diagnosis of the disease manifestation, symptom checkers often recommend further steps that are appropriate for the patient. In many situations, this would be self-care or teleconsultation, which in the case of patients with mild symptoms is adequate, and at the same helps to reduce the risk with other patients and lower the burden in ERs.
Screen presenting the recommendations in COVID-19 symptom checker.

Decreased risk of virus transmission

COVID-19 symptom checkers are online tools. By using them remotely, potentially sick people can stay at home, thus reducing the risk of spreading the virus to new people in public places, such as public transportation, medical centers, or even workplaces.

Assessing the scale of infections

Implemented on a large scale, symptom checkers help to assess the wider perspective, helping medics to see the state of health in the whole population and get the initial information about infected patients, who would need tests and treatment in a short time. Having such a scope of information, local administrations and healthcare facilities can manage available resources more efficiently

Management of the patient flow

Symptom checkers integrated with hospital systems allow for better management of a patient's information, their triage, and optimization of available resources, including physicians, medications, and the time necessary to help patients. Also, in the case of COVID-19 patients, it enables them to be separated from other patients and ensure the risk of spreading the virus to other patients and staff is as low as possible.

Faster diagnosis and treatment

The form of symptom checkers, which often resemble an intake collection, can be used as the first step on the patient's path and give physicians a chance to move to the proper examination and treatment faster.

This approach is especially valuable in times of high patient flow, like during the pandemic or epidemic, but not only. Adding symptom checking to the basic patient flow allows us to gather more comprehensive information about the patient and keep the Electronic Health Record (EHR) complete. It also has a positive effect on the satisfaction of physicians who can spend less time on documentation and more with the patient.

It is worth mentioning that symptom checkers are tools that have been available on the market for a relatively short time. Their impact on health systems will evolve with the growing popularity of these solutions. Interestingly, the current pandemic could greatly accelerate this process.

The influence of symptom checkers on global, healthcare cooperation

COVID-19 risk assessment tools were developed in an extremely short time. This was possible thanks to the swift response of the health-tech sector and cooperation with recognized health organizations, like WHO and CDC. The actions taken by the whole healthcare community are also worth mentioning and copying.

Despite the enormous occupancy, uncertainty and emerging chaos resulting from the emergence of a completely new enemy, many hospitals and healthcare organizations have decided to implement tools for the initial diagnosis of COVID-19. This helped them to improve patient diagnosis and triage processes, and thus manage the crisis more effectively.

“We were able to reduce the load on the health care system and ensure that caregivers have more time to treat patients,” says Ronni Gamzu, CEO at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, which decided to implement a bot named Corey. In the first days after its launch, the bot served over 30,000 patients.

Also, symptom checkers for SARS-Cov-2 that are not related to any healthcare organization facility, and made available free of charge to a wide group of recipients, contribute to better information about the risk related to the disease.

As we observe, the second wave of coronavirus is inevitable. We can expect that organizations with online tools for COVID-19 assessment will achieve a higher level of cooperation with patients, better information flow about infections, more efficient management of short resources, and overall, they will emerge through the approaching wave better off.

The right information on the risk of coronavirus, provided at the right time, helps everyone, from individuals to medical units, governments, and companies, which together create a system that allows us to manage the crisis situation we are currently in.