As the country continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, health organizations and their chatbots are filling the gap in access to care by providing users with contactless, personalized and thorough symptom assessments. By applying their user-focused interactive design and machine-learning technology, these firms are now providing dedicated COVID-19 symptom checkers for possibly infected and at-risk individuals.

Several health plan firms in our coverage group, like Anthem BCBS and Cigna, are offering third-party chatbot symptom checkers to customers, utilizing software and AI technology that telehealth firms began developing years ago. Nearly all of these are available publicly on health plan websites. Some firms, like Oscar and Mayo Clinic, are offering their own public site coronavirus self-assessments instead of using external tools. These self-assessments still focus on the same essential qualities of a thorough symptom checker: asking questions about symptoms, medical history and risk of exposure followed by providing care suggestions and access to important resources.

Symptom checker chatbots like these were originally presented as an alternative to searching one’s symptoms on Google, which can often lead to inaccurate or startling results. Their main function is to provide specific and credible information about health resources as a trusted source and suggest possible next steps for the user. Reliable information like this is even more important for patients worried about the novel coronavirus due to the evolving nature of the crisis: resources and links must be up to date, and recommendations need to follow CDC guidelines.

During the current pandemic, these AI chatbots can help offset some of the burden on doctors’ offices by acting as a preliminary diagnostic tool. Although they cannot formally diagnose users with anything, they can estimate a cause of illness based on the thoroughly entered results and point users in the right direction for care resources, linking to the CDC and offering information about nearby testing centers or telehealth services. The applied AI technology improves functionality by learning from a library of medical studies and uses the symptoms and results of all users to make the most accurate suggested diagnosis possible. By remembering a user’s key medical history details, the AI chatbot also provides even more personalized care recommendations and speeds up future assessments by eliminating the need for repeat medical history entries.

These telehealth health firms began developing their chatbot technology several years ago and are now expanding to meet the increased need for virtual care. Buoy Health, founded in 2014, features a coronavirus checker that allows users to determine their risk for the disease and provides straightforward suggestions about next steps for care after a quick intake, collecting information about age and type, severity, location and duration of symptoms. The assessment concludes if the user may be positive for coronavirus and may recommend telehealth services and a visit to a nearby testing center. Users can opt in to a “check in” feature and receive a text after three days that inquires about their health. Similarly, GYANT’s AI chatbot, which appears on Florida Blue’s public site, asks users questions about medical history and symptom severity but also incorporates colorful emojis and consolatory language to offer emotional support as the assessment taker reports unpleasant symptoms. As with all health AI tools, the chatbot remembers entered information from a pool of diverse respondents, increasing accuracy of results by incorporating comparative social, health and behavioral factors.

Emotional support language employed by the GYANT-powered Florida Blue Coronavirus Assessment tool during an intake
GYANT-Powered Florida Blue Coronavirus Assessment Tool

Anthem BCBS’s new “personal health assistant”—the Sydney Care app—also provides tailored health recommendations for users using K Health’s AI technology. While the app originally featured a general health diagnostic tool, it now includes a Coronavirus Assessment, allowing anyone, regardless of health coverage, to enter their basic symptoms and history and receive a risk assessment. The tool also provides a list of nearby testing centers based on user location. Its intuitive design expedites the process: individuals are prompted with simple questions about medical history and symptom severity and can interactively select where pain is located from a diagram for specificity. The tool allows users to go back to answers and edit them during the evaluation in case symptoms change over time.

Stages of a coronavirus assessment on Anthem BCBS’s Sydney Care app, from symptom intake to results
Anthem BCBS Sydney Care App Coronavirus Assessment Stages

As long as the coronavirus pandemic continues to overtax hospitals and doctors’ offices, user-focused telehealth services like AI chatbots and self-assessments will continue to be of immediate necessity. Technology is easing the burden placed on essential workers—obvious gains are visible in telehealth visits, which some health systems are reporting to be up by over 500% in a matter of weeks. Relaxed HIPAA restrictions by the federal government are allowing doctors and patients to use more broadly available forms of telecommunication, like Skype or FaceTime, rather than a proprietary and potentially costly service. While the rapid adjustment to telehealth and AI symptom tools may have unforeseen consequences regarding data privacy, during this immediate crisis these AI chatbot resources are evolving from optional add-ons to essential technologies.

Corporate Insight is closely monitoring how firms are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. For further information, read our continuing coverage on our company blog, or for our clients, we have launched an authenticated site section that collects all messaging across the firms we track in the following industries: Banking, Healthcare, Insurance/Annuities, Investing and Retirement.