Roundup: Tech's role in tracking, testing, treating COVID-19

[May 1] As the cases of COVID-19 increase we are seeing a rise in digital epidemiology tools, chatbot helpers, EHR guidance tools and rapid-response test kits.
By HIMSS Media
04:21 pm
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HealthMap's tracking tool. 

With the incidence of new COVID-19 cases growing by the day, healthcare stakeholders are continuing to search for tools and medications to help stem the tide. 

We have seen the digital health community release a slew of new tools aiming to monitor the spread of the disease and facilitate better treatment. And it sounds as if there's still more to come, as just this morning CNBC reported that tech giants Facebook, Amazon and Google were sitting down with the World Health Organization to talk about their role in combating the spread of disease, as well as misinformation. 

As of this morning there were over 2.6 million laboratory-confirmed cases of the virus, according to WHO. The medical community has rushed to search for solutions to the spread of the disease with a big push for vaccine and medicine research. 

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Tech has a history of helping the medical industry track and treat viruses. Among more recent examples is flu tracking. In 2018 the US experienced a particularly severe flu season. During this time aggregated user data collected through Kinsa’s smart connected thermometers indicated illness spikes across the country.

Even more recently, a Scripps Research Translational Institute study published in The Lancet Digital Health found that resting-heart-rate and sleep-duration data collected from Fitbit devices could help inform timely and accurate models of population-level influenza trends.

In terms of COVID-19, we are seeing another rise in digital epidemiology tools, chatbot helpers, EHR guidance tools and rapid-response test kits. 

Read on for a list of how health organizations, governments and digital health vendors are using technology to tackle the COVID-19 crisis: 


COVID-first virtual care. Telemedicine company Fruit Street Health launched a new risk assessment, triage and video consult platform designed specifically to handle potential COVID-19 cases.

Called CovidMD, the tool is built on the Salesforce Service Cloud and incorporates Conversa Health's automated communications offering. Patients who go to the company's webpage will fill out a free assessment regarding their history and current symptoms, and from there are given personalized guidance and the option to connect for a telemedicine appointment. These virtual visits will run $79 for those with private or no insurance, and "will likely" be completed on the same day.


More psychiatric therapeutics. Pear Therapeutics is rolling out its new digital therapeutic aimed at treating schizophrenia for limited distribution, after the FDA loosened up its regulations for digital psychiatric disorders devices during the coronavirus crisis. 

The new tool, called Pear-004, uses multimodal neurobehavioral interventions combined with antipsychotic medications. Patients with schizophrenia can use the tool for social skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy for psychosis and for illness self-management training. Pear-004 has to be used under a doctor’s supervision. The company is collaborating with select healthcare providers and academic institutions for the initial distribution. 

“Thanks to FDA’s Emergency Guidance, Pear is pleased to have the opportunity to help people suffering from schizophrenia by providing temporary access to our product candidate, Pear-004, during this time of greater need,” Dr. Corey McCann, president and CEO of Pear Therapeutics, said in a statement. “We embrace FDA’s guidance to temporarily expand the availability of experimental digital therapeutics to facilitate patient use during a time of heightened stress and to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19.”


Telemedicine integrations to meet new demands. Chronic disease patients relying on DarioHealth's mobile glucose management system will soon have in-app access to medical specialists, thanks to a new telemedicine integration with MediOrbis' MySpecialistMD network.

The virtual services now on offer through the app include primary and acute care; chronic disease management for conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and COPD; and specialty consultations or second opinions for more complicated medical concerns.

DarioHealth wrote in its announcement that the deal and its resulting platform expansion were largely driven by COVID-19, which poses an even greater risk to those living with a chronic disease. The company sees MediOrbis' doctor network as a substantial value add for the 50,000 people it says are using its disease management platform.


New online training resource. UK-based health tech firm Medical Realities has launched a free online resource to train healthcare workers in essential, safe and core practices for COVID-19.

The resource, called Covid med ed, brings together training, research and guidelines for medical students, the NHS and healthcare professionals worldwide. Features include access to latest COVID-19 guidelines, reviews of the latest pandemic data and relevant tests on the key clinical areas.

“We saw a need for a central credible repository of information for healthcare workers," Shafi Ahmed, chief medical officer and cofounder of Medical Realities, said in a statement. "It took three weeks of hard work to launch the platform and we are adding new content of best practice, research, videos and other resources every day.”


Consumer-initiated antibody testing. Lab test company Quest Diagnostics announced that it will be offering a “consumer initiated” COVID-19 antibody test for $119. 

Dubbed Quest Direct, the service will let consumers request the antibody test through an online platform. Once the request is initiated it is sent to a licensed physician, who greenlights the testing order. Patients can then go to a Quest service center to get their blood drawn, and get results within one to two days via an online portal. 

The antibody testing will be based on tests from Abbott and EUROIMMUN. Patients can also tap into telehealth services to discuss their results with a doctor. 


Aussies all over tracing app. According to a recent statement by Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt, the country's newly launched COVIDSafe contact tracing app has already seen more than 2 million downloads, just over 24 hours since the app was available for registration on 26 April.

the smartphone-based app helps state and territory health officials to quickly contact people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. State and territory health officials can only access app information if someone tests positive and agrees to the information in their phone being uploaded. The health officials can only use the app information to help alert those who may need to quarantine or get tested. It is the only contact tracing app that is approved by the Australian Government.


Chan Zuckerberg Initiative digs in. In an attempt to understand the scope and spread of the coronavirus in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative pledged $13.6 million to a research collaboration that includes UC San Francisco, Stanford University and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.

The funds will be put towards two studies. One is to specifically understand the scope of the coronavirus in the area and then give thie data to policy makers. The second is zeroing in on healthcare workers in the area and looking at whether the antibodies from COVID-19 protect them from reinfection. 


Tech resources look to Castlight. Health-navigation company Castlight Health has found its national COVID-19 test-site finder tool embedded into information resources offered by Google, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Ford Motor Company and others. The tool has also entered services from health companies like 98point6, Premise Health and Forward.


Data on data on data. Verizon Media announced today the release of a new dataset, API and interactive dashboard. Each tool is designed to help developers and others understand COVID-19 data available to the public. It is powered by the company's Yahoo Knowledge Graph.

Available today under a Creative Commons license, the Yahoo Knowledge COVID-19 dataset sources the case, recovery and death information from hundreds of government and health organization websites, and is already set to fuel tracking updates on Yahoo Search, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Weather. The API will help developers explore and build the tool into their own services, while the dashboard provides an example of how the data could be visualized.


Nursing home tracing. Senior-focused digital health company CarePredict rolled out a new set of contract-tracing tools designed for senior living facilities that can be used to track COVID-19. 

Named PinPoint, the new set of tools is broken up into four types of tracing: contact tracing, location tracing, path tracing and room traffic. The company said it used indoor location tech to identify where a staff member or patient was in the facility and who they came into contact with. 


Plasma donation. Microsoft has developed a new chatbot to help folks who have recovered from the COVID-19 virus determine if they can donate plasma to help with clinical research and treatment. 

Dubbed the CoVIg-19 Plasma Bot, it was designed to help screen patients before they donate plasma in person. The bot asks patients questions about their COVID-19 status and how long it has been since they had a negative test result. It will also ask typical blood donation questions, including weight cutoffs, age and HIV status. Participants can also put in their ZIP code, and the bot will provide them with the closest plasma donation center. 


Finding patients for clinical trials. A new public health tool dubbed World Without COVID launched this morning with the goal of connecting patients to coronavirus clinical trials across the country. The new product, which is powered by digital clinical trial company Clara Health, is aimed at helping propel clinical research and treatment surrounding the virus. 


Tracking in Denmark. The Danish Government teamed up with IT service provider Netcompany to create digital solutions to ease the country's national lockdown restrictions. The Danish tech company and the National Board of Digitisation have developed ‘COVIDmeter,’ which allows users to input and monitor coronavirus symptoms, and the ‘Mobile Proximity App,’ which tracks the spread of the virus.


Shoot me a message. Clinical messaging app Pando Health has been added to the NHS Library after official approval by NHS Digital. The app, which was launched in 2018, was founded by NHS staff and designed with NHS staff in mind. The platform allows staff to communicate safely with each other between wards and care teams to share advice, test results and other information, and is NHS England compliant. It has seen a 700% increase in engagement since COVID-19 struck.


At-home testing. On April 21 LabCorp's COVID-19 RT-PCR test became the first diagnostic test in the U.S. to be greenlit for COVID-19 at-home sample collection.

Patients can use Q-tip-style nasal cotton swabs and saline included in LabCorp's designated self-collection kit – which the company is branding as the "Pixel by LabCorp COVID-19 Test." These samples are mailed to a LabCorp facility in an insulated package for molecular testing.


Looking to real-world evidence. Aetion and HealthVerity joined forces to launch a new set of tools to support biopharmas and regulators gauging new COVID-19 treatments. The first, called the Real-Time Evidence Platform, is built on an instance of Aetion's platform and focuses on up-to-date usage, safety and effectiveness data. The Real-Time Trend Reporting and Interactive Data Visualizer, meanwhile, looks to demonstrate COVID-19's overall impact and how patients are currently accessing health care.


VR for stress. In Italy, Limbix Italia gave virtual reality headsets to Schiavonia COVID Hospital in an attempt to improve the psychological and emotional wellbeing of its staff. The VR hardware uses visualization and guided breathing techniques to reduce stress and anxiety in healthcare workers to support staff working long shifts treating patients suffering from coronavirus.


X-ray tool. Mumbai-based healthcare AI startup Qure.ai announced that it has deployed its advanced diagnostic software at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, U.K. The tool automates the interpretation of COVID-19 proliferation from chest X-rays, making it easier for healthcare professionals to monitor the extent and rate of viral infection progression.


New test. Singapore-based biotech start-up MiRXES announced that it has received Provisional Authorization from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) Singapore to supply the Fortitude Kit SARS-CoV-2 real-time RT-PCR (reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction) test. With technology licensed from Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) and the HSA Provisional Authorization, MiRXES becomes a legal product owner to manufacture and distribute the Fortitude Kit.


VR for training. Returning and redeployed clinicians drafted to NHS ICUs to help with the COVID-19 pandemic are now able to get up to speed with ventilation skills by using a new online tool from FundamentalVR, which specializes in developing immersive simulations for training surgeons.

The tool will help hospitals to retain and boost their capacity at a time when resources are stretched by high patient numbers and clinical staff absence.


Tech giants tackle COVID-19, together. Apple and Google announced plans to launch APIs that will enable interoperability between iOS and Android products by way of official apps from public health authorities. The companies said these apps will be available for consumers to download from the App Store and Google Play Store starting in May. 

In the longer term, the two companies have also committed to building a Bluetooth-based contact tracing functionality into their underlying operating systems. The companies said that this strategy will be designed as an opt-in functionality, but would open the door for more participants and deeper data integration with health apps and governments' public health initiatives.

"Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders," the companies wrote in their announcements. "We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze."


Addressing mental health. Consumer telehealth and mail-order prescription services Hims and Hers are kicking off their behavioral health services with anonymized group therapy sessions, which the brands are currently offering free of charge in light of COVID-19 stress. These sessions are led by a licensed mental health practitioner.


Exploring genomics' role in treating COVID-19. 23andMe is interested in exploring whether or not an individual's genes may play a role in the severity of their COVID-19 infection. The consumer genomics-testing company said that it is hoping to enroll hundreds and thousands of its U.S. customers in a longitudinal genome-wide association study, with the end goal of identifying specific genetic variants that might be associated with disease severity.

“Ultimately, we want to publish our research findings in order to help provide more insight on COVID-19 for the scientific community," Joyce Tung, VP of research at 23andMe, said in a blog post from the company.


Walgreens expands telehealth. Walgreens has announced the expansion of its telehealth program to include a COVID-19 risk assessment, information on clinical trials and a greater number of providers. The platform consists of a mobile health app and website, and looks to help patients navigate to health systems and telehealth providers where they can connect with a doctor or nurse practitioner.

National and regional partners have been added for patients to virtually connect with more than 30 providers, including many in states currently most impacted by COVID-19, such as New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan and Florida. New Walgreens Find Care collaborations include AmWell, Hospital Sisters Health System Medical Group, McLaren Health Care and Novant Health, while the pharmacy has expanded its services with Providence St. Joseph Health's ExpressCare Virtual, Heal and Village Medical.

 


Strict tracking and tracing. The Kingdom of Bahrain has launched a COVID-19 tracking program that relies on GPS-tracking electronic bracelets and a coronavirus contact tracing app. The system alerts a government monitoring station when an infected individual leaves isolation or if the bracelet loses its connection. In addition, Ministry of Health officials may randomly send picture requests to which self-isolating individuals must respond with a photo that clearly shows their face and bracelet. 


Mental health in the age of coronavirus. Healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente and digital health specialist Livongo have teamed up to offer Livongo’s myStrength behavioral health app to Kaiser Members.

The partnership allows Kaiser's members to have 24/7 access to the app through their mobile devices or their computer, which includes myStrength’s selection of digital behavioral health tools to combat stress and bolster mental health. These include COVID-19-specific modules that can help individuals manage heightened stress and ideas to manage social isolation, a thing that can contribute markedly to a deterioration in health.


More access to stress, anxiety management. Omada Health announced that U.S. employers and health plans will be able to provide the chronic-disease-management startup's Behavioral Health Program to their members at no cost. The digital program matches members with a dedicated live coach and other resources to help reduce their stress, anxiety or depression.


Virtual triage. Sanitas USA, a healthcare provider active in Florida, New Jersey, Texas and Connecticut, has tapped health-data startup Innovaccer to support a virtual COVID-19 screening and triage program. The app-based resource will facilitate virtual calls and remote-monitoring features, help providers compile clinical notes and auto-fill forms necessary for state health department case-reporting requirements.


Facebook's latest Data for (coronavirus) Good. Facebook has rolled out three maps through its Data for Good program aimed at tracking the potential spread of COVID-19. The Menlo Park company will share the maps, which are based off aggregated Facebook data, with research and public health organizations.

The first map is a co-location maps, used to determine the probability that Facebook users will come into contact with each other. The second shows whether people are staying at home on a county-by-county level, while the third is focused on insights around Facebook connections, such as Facebook Friends, across geographic lines. 


Google releases GPS mobility reports. Google also released an open online resource that aggregates anonymized location-tracking data from mobile devices to share large-scale mobility and behavior trends. 

The end results are downloadable Community Mobility Reports that highlight movement-trend differences at country, state, county or regional levels. These generally reflect mobility data from two or three days prior, according to the company, and never display absolute visit numbers.

Instead, users are shown a percentage change in visit volume for location types – for instance, a 56% decline in mobility trends for Massachusetts parks from the February 16 reporting baseline to the most recent data collection date of March 29.


Telemedicine partnership increases capacity. Acute care telemedicine technology and services vendor SOC Telemed and clinical practice management company SCP Health have announced a partnership to deliver scalable, flexible emergency and hospital medicine services via telemedicine. 

As a result, SCP Health will conduct rapid-cycle deployments of SOC Telemed’s IQ platform in multiple SCP Health emergency- and hospital-medicine programs. The services are staffed by SCP Health clinicians and will enable surge coverage needs during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.


Two minds are better than one. UCSF Health Hub has launched a new program to help connect healthcare and tech stakeholders seek solutions to the coronavirus crisis. Dubbed the UCSF Volunteer Patriots, the goal is to help develop diagnostics and care at a faster pace by working together. 


Chatbot helpJefferson Health system inked a partnership with LifeLink to launch the former’s chatbot across the provider's 14 Philadelphia locations. The chabot uses AI and machine learning to help pre-screen for coronavirus symptoms. Patients can also use the bot to help figure out the right path for their treatment. 

“We must find ways to engage a high volume of patients that are coming to us for help,” Neil Gomes, EVP and chief digital officer at Jefferson Health, said in a statement. “LifeLink chatbots have already proven to be effective for us at increasing digital appointment requests.”


No skimping on exercise. British company iPrescribe Exercise is looking to address access issues by providing its virtual service to medical rehab facilities and providers who have closed their offices due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We’re all in uncharted waters at the moment but one thing is certain — exercise to help maintain a healthy lifestyle and immune system is more important than ever,” Carron Manning, founder of iPrescribe Exercise, said in a statement. “For those who already incorporate exercise as part of their daily lifestyle this shouldn’t be too challenging, with the prevalence of exercise guides available. However what about those who have a health condition and need more specialist help with fitness programmes? It is vital that they continue to exercise through quarantine."


Organizing services. Health Catalyst has launched a COVID-19 Response tool that includes seven different services. The new feature will be available to Health Catalyst customers, but it is opening up a module focused on patient safety to all healthcare organizations. The seven new services include a patient and staff tracker, public health surveillance, staff-augmentation support, COVID-19 registry, COVID-19 dashboard, a capacity-planning tool and a financial-impact and analysis resource.

“Our growing suite of COVID-19 Solutions capabilities includes identifying the location of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 as well as other patient, clinician and staff interactions and exposures to allow for infectious disease surveillance and automated monitoring for ‘hot-spots’ using local geo-mapping and more,” Holly Rimmasch, Chief Clinical Officer at Health Catalyst, said in a statement. “Data-informed surveillance and containment strategies can enhance COVID-19 detection, reduce transmission and help our nation’s hospitals and healthcare systems manage capacity and supplies to limit risk of system-overwhelm and improve patient, caregiver and community outcomes.”


Chatbot advice. Digital-payment company Flywire and AI-powered chatbot Ivy.ai are joining forces on a new COVID-19 chatbot that will let patients tap into information about the virus. The new tool is customizable for healthcare providers and can help assess COVID-19 risk in patients.

“The coronavirus pandemic is putting enormous strain on healthcare providers who are on the front line of treating and containing the virus,” said John Talaga, EVP and GM of Flywire’s healthcare division. “In addition to actively treating patients, doctors and nurses are overrun with calls from individuals about potential coronavirus symptoms. Flywire’s chatbot service is designed to help healthcare providers keep up with the high volume of requests they’re seeing. It’s one little way we can help our healthcare clients manage how they engage and support their patient population at this critical time.”


Resource hub. Virgin Pulse is launching a COVID-19 Hub that will include resources for helping its users deal with the pandemic. Users can tap into webinars, blog posts and links about staying healthy during this time. The hub’s curated content is centered on stress management, staying active, maintaining productivity, eating health and sleeping well.

“The mental, physical and financial toll COVID-19 is taking on employers, employees, families and the world at large cannot be understated,” Dave Osborne, CEO of Virgin Pulse, said in a statement. “Virgin Pulse, together with our partners, recognize that we must bring our collective resources to bear to help as many people as we can, as quickly as we can, and at the most critical time of their adjustment to this new world.”


Dashboard assessment. athenahealth is adding two new dashboards to address the coronavirus. The first is one for high-risk populations. It can pinpoint areas with high-risk patients and let provider organizations know ahead of time. The second is a lab-testing dashboard that lets providers see a map of where tests are being ordered by other healthcare workers on the athenahealth network. The idea is to help clinicians track trends.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to grow across the country, it is critically important that our nation’s leaders have current information to inform decisions on where to deploy hospital resources and bolster clinical infrastructure,” Bob Segert, chairman and CEO of athenahealth, said in a statement. “Our COVID-19 dashboards enable users to track and predict which area hospitals may need more support based on the number of tests being performed and the number of people at risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19. By providing this data from our connected network, we aim to help providers on the frontlines battling the coronavirus and potentially slow the number of fatalities from this pandemic.”


Apple health checkApple launched a COVID-19 website and corresponding app. The new site, which serves as both a screening tool and information platform, was born out of a collaboration with Apple, the CDC, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and FEMA. Users are able to go onto the site and answer a list of questions including symptoms, risk factors and exposure. At the end of the survey users are given a directive about possible next steps. 


Siri give me guidance. In other Apple news, 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."


Wearable studies. Two major wearable studies  kicked off this week. The first is the DETECT (Digital Engagement & Tracking for Early Control & Treatment) Study, headed by the Scripps Research Translational Institute. It combines heart-rate, activity and sleep data collected through a range of devices – such as Fitbits, Apple Watches, Garmins, Oura Rings or any others that can share data with Google Fit or Apple HealthKit – and pairs it with participant-submitted symptom reports.

The second is the UC San Francisco's TemPredict Study. This effort is inviting Oura Ring users to release their device-collected physiological data and complete daily surveys on their condition. It, too, looks to "identify patterns that could predict onset, progression, and recovery in future cases of COVID-19.


Birth control app turns to coronavirus. Birth control app Natural Cycles is now looking to address the coronavirus crisis with a new symptom tracker. Users of the app can enter their symptoms and then share them with their healthcare provider. The app allows users to also enter a positive or negative coronavirus test. 

“The last few weeks we have been seeing changes in how our users use the app as the situation in the world is rapidly changing due to the new coronavirus,” Natural Cycles co-founder and CEO Elina Berglund, said in a statement. “We asked ourselves how we can better help our users, as well as the medical community, and immediately dedicated internal resources to release our COVID-19 symptom trackers functionality to users everywhere on an expedited timeline.”


Making a list. Chicago-based Intelligent Medical Objects is offering its customers two free COVID-19 Sets, designed to help with clinicians' workflow and management, specifically pertaining to the virus. The sets consists of a list of codes and patient groupings by issue or disease. The new addition, is pitched as a way to help providers document, track and analyze response to patient care. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis for society. By providing up to the minute, clinically-accurate and specific terminology, mapped to the rapidly changing international standard codes, IMO is ensuring that governments and institutions have access to the right information as quickly as possible to fight the virus,” Dr. Andrew S. Kanter, chief medical officer at IMO, said in a statement. “Leveraging specific value sets, we speed the process of grouping together patients who have various forms of COVID-19 disease and those who are suspected of or exposed to the disease.”


Daily check. With a focus on the elderly population, My Day for Seniors on Alexa will now include COVID-19 screenings coming in the form of daily questionnaires. The system is able to communicate a possible case of COVID-10 back to a designated caregiver or family member. 

“Now more than ever, advanced technology has the opportunity to provide support and engagement for people who would have been hard to reach even 5 years ago," Dr. Randall Williams, founder of My Day for Seniors, said in a statement. "My Day for Seniors is just one way we can help flatten the curve while providing support to seniors and peace of mind to loved ones.” 


Education focus. Patient engagement tool GetWellNetwork is adding free coronavirus management modules for health systems and provider organizations. The two modules focus on screening and testing, self-monitoring, self-quarantining, and symptoms monitoring. The company pitches these modules as a way to educate patients and share information with the broader community.


Speedy testing. Everlywell announced that it is working to develop a take-home coronavirus test that will be available soon. The company said it plans to offer the test at cost, with no profit to the company. The test will allow users to collect samples at home and then ship their sample to a lab. 

The test results will then be available within 3 to 5 days online. The home test kit will include an overnight delivery label, a telemedicine consultation for those with positive results and the disease-sample collecting kit. 


Test, assess. Direct-to-consumer virtual health company Ro is offering free COVID-19 triage telehealth assessment. After a user has completed the online assessment, Ro will connect them with a provider if it’s deemed appropriate. The follow-up may be done through phone, or by text or video chat. 

In a Medium post the company’s CEO, Zachariah Reitano, said that the tool had been developed using guidelines from infectious-disease specialists, as well as those from the CDC and World Health Organization. Reitano said the new effort was created in part to help unburden hospitals and advise symptomatic patients about next steps.  


Short term tele-fix. MeMD is launching a short-term telehealth business to address the needs of coronavirus patients. Companies can now purchase a 90-day virtual health package called Total Telehealth-Rapid Response. 

“With telehealth, we can stem the flow of patients to crowded ERs, mitigate the spread of the virus and still ensure that people get the care they need,” said Bill Goodwin, CEO of MeMD. “Short-term telehealth options make it possible for businesses to navigate a very uncertain time.”


Alexa I need some advice. Voice-powered health tech company Orbita launched a new coronavirus-focused virtual assistant. The free tool is able to be integrated into other platforms, including scheduling and telemedicine applications. It comes equipped with a conversational question-and-answer format and screen tools based on CDC formats. Organizations also have the ability to integrate their custom content into the tech. 

"We asked ourselves in recent weeks, 'What can we do to make a difference?,' and we quickly arrived at a logical decision for our company," Orbita CEO Bill Rogers said in a statement. "We're providing this COVID-19-specific chatbot free of charge to bring immediate support to organizations now scrambling to educate the public, provide rapid triage, and reduce infection risk, all within constraints of limited resources and rapidly changing circumstances."


One for providers, one for community. MobileSmith launched two COVID-19-focused new apps, one for staff members and one for community members. The staff-member app was designed to help health workers communicate. It also allows users to manage staff deployment, and provides video references. 

The community app helps community responders access virtual or telehealth assessments and screening tools. It also provides information about COVID19. 


Blood testing. Israeli blood-testing startup Sight Diagnostics announced that it is teaming up with Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv in order to provide blood testing for patients. 

Sight’s OLO blood analyzer will provide rapid complete blood count (CBC) results in a dedicated lab to process samples of COVID-19 patients who are being monitored and treated in a separate field hospital. 


Baby advice. Prenatal-focused startup Babyscripts is teaming up with George Washington Medical Faculty Associates in order to answer expecting moms' specific COVID-19 questions. The team came up with a list of resources and recommendations relating to the virus that allowed Babyscripts app-users to tap into reference tools, such as FAQs. Babyscripts also announced that it would be launching a campaign for its health systems, which would allow providers to customize the COVID-19 information. 

“At times of crisis like this, access to accurate information is key for reducing anxiety and panic,” Juan Pablo Segura, president and cofounder of Babyscripts, said in a statement. “There’s a lot of conflicting information floating around on the internet, and pregnant women are especially vulnerable because they’re in a unique situation that complicates their normal responses to things like virus protection. Mobile health gives us the critical ability to communicate to these patients in real time and answer their questions.”


ALERT. OptimizeRx has integrated COVID-19 alerts into its health information network on EHRs. The system connects providers to CDC-specific information. The company is pitching this as a way to monitor the spread of the disease. 

“As the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to grow daily, it is vital that providers have the most up-to-date information on the virus when treating patients,” William Febbo, OptimizeRx’s CEO, said in a statement. “Timely CDC messages within the OptimizeRx digital health platform at the point of care raises awareness at a critical time and location where health decisions are being made.”


Mapping the structure. Alphabet subsidiary DeepMind has released structural predictions for “understudied proteins” that are linked to COVID-19.  Using the latest version of its AlphaFold system, an AI-enabled deep learning system, the company has been able to generate and release its findings. 

“We emphasise that these structure predictions have not been experimentally verified, but hope they may contribute to the scientific community’s interrogation of how the virus functions, and serve as a hypothesis-generation platform for future experimental work in developing therapeutics,” the AlphaFold team wrote in a statement. 

The statement went on to explain that understanding a protein’s structure is important for understanding its function. However, historically it takes months to acquire the proper data to come up with the structure, which is where computation models come into play. 


Evaluate, educateHealthcare providers will be able to tap into Bright.md’s new COVID-19 screening and evaluation tool. Patients can use the tool to get advice about where to go if they are presenting with COVID-19 symptoms. The tool is pitched as a way for providers to keep patients away from busy emergency rooms. It can be integrated into Bright.md’s virtual-care platform, the SmartExam. 

"The COVID-19 scare will likely cause an overwhelming demand for hospital facilities and clinical resources, making it difficult to treat patients who need care the most," Dr. Ray Costantini, CEO and cofounder of Bright.md, said in a statement. "Crowded emergency departments also raise the risk of spreading viruses – whether it's COVID-19 or the common flu – to sick people at the facility, as well as to the larger community."


Take the survey. Georgian startup Rimidi announced that it is rolling out a new patient-reported outcome survey to help screen and track the spread of COVID-19. The new tool will integrate with EHRs, and its results can be analyzed by clinicians. The survey responses are compared to CDC guidelines about risk. 

“One of the greatest challenges in China and across other countries that faced early COVID-19 outbreaks has been hospital-based transmission,” Dr. Lucienne Ide, founder of Rimidi, said in a statement. “With the app, we can help keep potentially infectious individuals from exposing other patients or staff in the healthcare system in waiting rooms, emergency rooms, or triage before they are identified and separated.”


Dealing with quarantine. As Israel’s Sheba Medical Center prepared to take custody of the 12 Israeli passengers onboard the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship that was quarantined in Japan for several weeks because of the COVID-19 coronavirus, it worked with at least three vendors to bring telemedicine care to these patients. 

Longtime remote-monitoring company Datos, whose platform the center used to develop a monitoring program and treatment protocols, and Tyto Care, a new partner who will provide the devices and a consumer-friendly user experience, will come together so patients conduct exams without medical staff present. 

A third solution, from recent Teladoc acquisition InTouch Health, is a robotic telemedicine cart called Vici that is equipped with a camera, screen and medical equipment that can be sent into a quarantined patient area and controlled remotely by a doctor or nurse.


Diagnostic discoveries. Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center (SPHCC) and Yitu Healthcare, a Shanghai-based AI startup, officially launched the Intelligent Evaluation System of Chest CT for COVID-19. 

The system enables intelligent diagnosis and quantitative evaluation of CT images of COVID-19 through image algorithms. It grades the severity of various pneumonia diseases of local lesions, diffuse lesions and whole-lung involvement. In addition, it accurately quantifies the cumulative pneumonia load of the disease through quantitative and omics analysis of key image features such as the morphology, range and density of the lesion. 


Tracking the progressionDr. Alex Liu, founder of the data science company RMDS Labs, is teaming up with researchers at Wuhan University to develop a new way of using AI and machine-learning programs to track the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The platform will also be looking at the future implications that the virus could have on the economy. 


Accessing guidelines. MayaMD.AI released a tool that helps people who were exposed or potentially exposed to the coronavirus figure out their best course of action. It includes standardized guidelines that can be adjusted based on emerging best practices. The company noted that this tool could also be used for clinicians, healthcare workers, public workers and airline crews. 


Assessing during intake. Carbon Health, a virtual and in-person primary-care network, launched a new integration into its workflow platform designed to help pinpoint the patients at risk for COVID-19. During the intake process, the system will prompt providers to ask questions surrounding travel history and symptoms.


Checking for contamination. The Chinese government released a new app intended to help citizens check whether they came into contact with the virus. App users are asked to register a phone number, name and ID number in order to see if they were in contact with someone infected, according to Chinese state media outlet Xinhua, which first reported the story. 

Users are able to get the app by scanning a QR code through platforms like WeChat, Alipay and QQ. The app will then give them information on whether they came into “close contact” with the disease, which the government defines as being in close proximity with no protection to someone who has a confirmed or suspected case.


Tracking the spread. A team from Johns Hopkin’s Center for System Science and Engineering released a new live dashboard that integrates information from the WHO and CDC to track the virus in real time. The dashboard includes information about cases by region and country, as well as the deaths. The information is displayed in a map and in corresponding charts.


Screening and supporting. InterSystems released a functionality allowing users of the latest editions of TrakCare to screen and support patients with COVID-19, as the fight against the spread of the outbreak intensifies.

The company said customers in China, the UK, the United Arab Emirates and other countries had already started using it.

The functionality is based on guidance from WHO and links to the Wuhan Coronavirus Global Cases app from the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering in the US.


Partnering on solutions. Boston-based chatbot Buoy Health and digital epidemiology tool HealthMap have each been working on their own tools, but have come together in a data-sharing collaboration.

HealthMap has been focused on tracking the novel coronavirus from the onset, and has experience tracking the spread of diseases. 

“There is all this information online and we can capture events ahead [of time using] what might be reported through these networks, social media, chat rooms … [Our] work is focused initially on early signs of a disease,” John Brownstein, who heads up HealthMap, told MobiHealthNews. “That is what we did with the coronavirus and found some signs on local news, chat rooms. ... We’ve been working with an international team to do some crowdsourcing of identification of keywords and metadata.”

Meanwhile, Buoy has a new feature providing patients with information about the condition. When people are using Buoy’s symptom tracker, it may also be listed as a possible condition for certain patients — based on travel history and other factors. 

Buoy and HealthMap are sharing information coming into each platform to help assist patients at home as well as public health officials. 

“Because we have a good sense of underlying risk we can push that information to Buoy, and that can help them fine tune their algorithm and fine tune their decision support tools,” Brownstein said. “But the reverse is also true – they are collecting symptom data from consumers that can point to signals for disease contamination.”


Giving guidance. At the beginning of February, Phreesia, a digital health company that focuses on the patient check-in space, launched a new screening module for its clients at no additional costs. The new tool is based on the CDC's guidelines and updates regularly based on these parameters. 


Drones for surveillance. Bloomberg News reported that the Chinese government is using drones to ensure that its citizens are following public health safety guidelines. The drones, which come with loudspeaker capabilities, will zero in on individuals who aren’t following the recommendations, and an operator will give them instructions, such as, “go inside” or “put on a mask.”

 The videos, which were posted by Global Times, a publication owned by the Chinese Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper, show the drones getting personal and calling out a person’s clothing or appearance in order to get their attention and then correct their behavior. 


Curbing contamination. CNN reported that medical teams tapped robots to care for the first person diagnosed with the virus in the US. The robot was used to take vitals and communicate with the medical team outside of the isolation area. The CNN report specifies that the robot was used as a means of preventing the virus from being transmitted to the medical staff. 


Check the guidance. Previously, athenahealth added a new update to its cloud-based software aimed at helping its clients screen and test their patients for COVID-2019. 

As part of this effort, the company has implemented new diagnostic-testing orders and screening questions across its network of ambulatory and hospital customers.

"We pushed these updates directly into the workflows of 130,000 providers overnight – no downloads or installation required, and sincerely hope that our ability to respond quickly and provide the right resources will help our customers in their efforts to limit the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus," athenahealth CEO Bob Segert said in a statement.

Among the new tools quickly developed and deployed: a set of new travel-related screening questions that appear within athenaClinicals workflows.


Testing kit. In late January Singapore-based Veredus Laboratories, a provider of innovative molecular diagnostic solutions, recently announced the development of VereCoV detection kit, a portable Lab-on-Chip application capable of detecting the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and COVID-2019 in a single test.

The VereCoV detection Kit is based on the VereChip technology, a Lab-on-Chip platform integrating two powerful molecular biological applications, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and microarray, that will be able to identify and differentiate MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV and COVID-2019 with high specificity and sensitivity.


Under development. A group of researchers led by Assistant Professor Shao Huilin at the Institute for Health Innovation & Technology (iHealthtech), located at the National University of Singapore (NUS), is working on the development of a rapid COVID-19 detection kit based on the enVision technology platform, which they invented in 2018.

Traditional polymerase chain reaction-based (PCR) coronavirus detection kits take about a day to produce results, while the latest lab-on-chip detection kit currently in development by Veredus Laboratories can produce results in about two hours. enVision (enzyme-assisted nanocomplexes for visual identification of nucleic acids) can be designed to detect a wide range of diseases – from emerging infectious diseases (e.g. Zika and Ebola) and high-prevalence infections (e.g. hepatitis, dengue and malaria) to various types of cancers and genetic diseases. enVision takes between 30 minutes to one hour to detect the presence of diseases. 


Curbing fake news. Facebook pledged to remove false claims and conspiracy theories about the disease posted on its social media platforms. 

In a recent blog post, the company announced that it is working with a network of third-party fact-checkers to review information. If a piece of information is rated as false, the company pledges to limit its spread on Facebook and Instagram. 

Facebook also noted that it would be providing aggregated and anonymized mobility data and population-density models to help researchers at Harvard and National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan create their forecasting modes. 


Fever check. In the midst of the COVID-19 spread, Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), the national HIT agency in Singapore, has partnered with local healthcare AI startup KroniKare to pilot iThermo – an AI-powered temperature-screening solution that screens and identifies those having or showing symptoms of fever. iThermo is currently being piloted at IHiS headquarters in Serangoon North and St. Andrews Community Hospital (SACH) from February 10 onwards respectively in "live" operational environments.


Reimbursement for tests. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a new Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System code that will enable providers to bill the lab test for COVID-19. The code allows labs to bill for the specific test instead of using an unspecified code.

The system will be able to accept the code on April 1 for dates of service on or after February 4. HCPCS is a standardized coding system that Medicare and other health insurers use to submit claims for services provided to patients.