Mar 23, 2020 - Health

CDC bot Clara provides online triage for coronavirus testing

A screenshot of the coronavirus self-checker.

A screenshot of the coronavirus self-checker. Photo: CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched an online self-checker for the novel coronavirus in the form of a bot named Clara.

Why it matters: Clara can act as a triage for health care providers, who are under increasing strain from a surge in COVID-19 cases. There are more than 35,000 cases in the U.S. — the third-highest in the world after China and Italy as of early Monday, according to Johns Hopkins data.

  • Per Microsoft, which is behind the Healthcare Bot service: "[T]he 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."

Of note: The online self-checker is designed to help people make "decisions about seeking appropriate medical care" and is not to be used as a "diagnosis or treatment of disease or other conditions, including COVID-19," the CDC states on its website.

How it works: The bot asks users a series of questions, ranging from whether that person has possible symptoms or pre-existing medical conditions to whether they may have encountered someone diagnosed with the virus.

  • Based on their answers, Clara then recommends to users the appropriate next steps, from urgent directions like "go to the Emergency Department" to "call your provider if you get worse."
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