Updated April 9, 2020

In a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not only important to deliver medical care but to also provide information to help people make decisions and prevent health systems from being overwhelmed.

Microsoft is helping with this challenge by offering its Healthcare Bot service powered by Microsoft Azure to organizations on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response to help screen patients for potential infection and care.

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released a COVID-19 assessment bot that 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.

The bot, which utilizes Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service, will initially be available on the CDC website.

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.

Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service is one solution that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help the CDC and other frontline organizations respond to these inquiries, freeing up doctors, nurses, administrators and other healthcare professionals to provide critical care to those who need it.

The Healthcare Bot service is a scalable Azure-based public cloud service that allows organizations to quickly build and deploy an AI-powered bot for websites or applications that can offer patients or the general public personalized access to health-related information through a natural conversation experience. It can be easily customized to suit an organization’s own scenarios and protocols.

To assist customers in the rapid deployment of their COVID-19 bots, Microsoft is making available a set of COVID-19 response templates that customers can use and modify:

  • COVID-19 risk assessment based on CDC guidelines
  • COVID-19 clinical triage based on CDC protocols
  • COVID-19 up-to-date answers to frequently asked questions
  • COVID-19 worldwide metrics
COVID-19 assessment bot screenshots
Screenshots from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 assessment bot.

Providence, one of the largest health systems in the U.S. headquartered near Seattle and serving seven Western states, had previously used Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service running on Azure to create a healthcare chatbot named Grace that could help answer patient’s questions online. Using CDC guidelines and its own clinical protocols, Providence was able to build a similar Coronavirus Assessment Tool in just three days to help people in the communities it serves know whether they should seek medical attention for their respiratory symptoms.

The tool, which launched in early March, can bring a prospective patient directly into a telehealth session with a clinician to get immediate care.  It also aims to prevent healthy people or those with mild symptoms from showing up at clinics and emergency departments, which helps to limit community infection and save hospital beds and equipment for those who need it.

Walgreens, one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, also provides specialty pharmacy, in-store clinics and other healthcare services throughout the country. Walgreens announced the expansion of the Walgreens Find Care™ platform to include a COVID-19 Risk Assessment, powered by Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot. Walgreens aims to further support patients and customers during this critical time by making it possible for customers to assess their risk of COVID-19 based on CDC guidelines.

Other providers who are now using Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service to respond to COVID-19 inquiries include:

Virginia Mason Health System, based in Seattle and serving the Pacific Northwest region, has created a patient assessment Healthcare Bot to help its patients understand whether care is needed. The instance is live and has thousands of daily users.

Novant Health, a healthcare provider in four states in the Southeast with one of the largest medical groups in the country, has created a Healthcare bot for COVID-19 information that went live on its website within a few days, with thousands of daily users since its launch.

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. We hope the answers it can provide will curb anxiety that the “worried well” may experience without clear guidance and save lives by speeding the path to care for those who need it most.

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