Apple's Siri now walks worried users through their COVID-19 symptoms

A weekend update to the virtual assistant includes a new COVID-19 conversation tree, which relies on information and guidance from the CDC and links users to consumer telehealth services if appropriate.
By Dave Muoio
02:49 pm
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Apple's Siri has been updated to provide symptom-based guidance and, in some cases, telehealth-app download links to users seeking COVID-19 information from the virtual assistant.

Now, when users ask Siri a question along the lines of "How do I know whether I have coronavirus?" or "I think I have coronavirus," the tool initiates a new conversation tree to determine the user's current symptoms. The user responds to each of these voice and text prompts with "yes," "no" or "not sure."

The functionality went live over the weekend, with users on Twitter spotting the new responses on Saturday. Siri's replies throughout the process all follow the guidances and information released by the CDC and the U.S. Public Health Service, and generally fall under four categories.

If the user says they do not have COVID-19 symptoms and have not been exposed, Siri will direct them to the CDC's website for more information. Similarly, if they might have symptoms but are unsure, Siri offers some basic information about the disease and again refers users to the CDC's website.

If the user tells Siri that their symptoms are serious but not life threatening, the virtual assistant advises them to speak with their physician and provides a selection of consumer telehealth apps in case the user can't manage an in-person visit. The apps featured in the list of downloads include Amwell, Teladoc, Doctor on Demand, HealthTap, PlushCare, Sydney Care and MDLive, among others.

Finally, if the user describes their condition as severe or otherwise indicates an emergency, Siri will advise them to call 911.

WHY IT MATTERS

As of a March 24 update, the CDC has received reports of more than 44,000 cases and 544 deaths in the U.S. With more cases developing each day and a tidal wave of misinformation spreading online, the Siri update places public health guidance in every iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, MacBook and other up-to-date Apple device. In particular, older demographics' preference for voice interfaces and virtual assistants means that this update could help spread proper COVID-19 guidance among a high-risk aging population.

The update is also something of a boon to consumer-facing telehealth, a care resource that has seen increasing use and mainstream acceptance over the course of the pandemic.

THE LARGER TREND

The latest Siri content update is one component of a larger push within Apple to help connect users with appropriate health information and resources regarding the novel coronavirus, MobiHealthNews has learned. Other products in the initiative include a dedicated COVID-19 news tab within Apple News, as well as a collection of coronavirus podcasts within the Apple's Podcasts app.

Meanwhile, the global pandemic has also led the tech company to shift its annual Worldwide Developers Conference event to an entirely online format.

Other tech heavyweights have taken on the challenges of health information and misinformation over the past several weeks. Google, Facebook and Twitter have all signed on with health agencies in their efforts to cut through the hoaxes and other problematic information being hosted on their services.

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