As part of the global effort to quell the spread of coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched Clara, an online coronavirus symptom checker bot. While it’s not intended to diagnose coronavirus or to prescribe treatment, the CDC hopes that Clara will ease the burden on medical personnel called on to prioritize only the most pressing cases of infection.
As cases of coronavirus continue to climb in the US, hospitals continue to struggle with securing much-needed safety and testing equipment. Besides the equipment issues, patient capacity is fast becoming a problem in larger cities, such as New York, which is now considered by many health officials as the epicenter in the US.
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With the introduction of Clara, the CDC is looking to give people concerned they are infected with coronavirus a way to evaluate their symptoms at home. With doctors and nurses already overtaxed by the growing number of confirmed cases and hospitals potential hotbeds for transmission, the hope is that Clara can address those only seeking evaluations for coronavirus-like symptoms. After requesting some basic background information – whether the user or someone they’re caring for is currently sick, their age, and location (Clara is only available in the US) – Clara then provides a set of symptoms from which the user can select. These include extreme difficulty breathing, severe chest pain, and confusion / disorientation. Anything other than the catch-all “Not experiencing any life-threatening symptoms” results in instructions to call 911. If a user’s symptoms fall into the non-life-threatening category, Clara launches into a series of questions aimed at narrowing down a less extreme course of action, such as self-isolating and monitoring symptoms to contacting a doctor by phone. Users are asked if they’ve been in contact with anyone known to be infected or if they’ve visited an area with known cases, and are given additional sets of symptoms that can be selected to help Clara offer more targeted advice.
How Useful Is Clara For Those Worried About Coronavirus?
One of the significant developments during the coronavirus outbreak is the increase in innovative ways technology has been aiding in the fight. From 3D-printing much needed personal protective equipment and ventilators to apps that aid in contract tracing, private sector and government-backed firms are exploring ways to help turn the tide against coronavirus. In that spirit, a bot like Clara may prove useful. Eliminating any unnecessary drain on time and resources in hospitals and doctors’ offices is key to making sure those in need of immediate, intensive treatment are given the utmost priority. Whether or not users will take Clara’s advice to heart remains to be seen, however. With health and well-being on the line, people may be unwilling to heed anything other than a doctor’s literal, spoken word, and given the potentially fatal consequences of inaction when it comes to coronavirus, people may err on the side of caution with their symptoms, rather than a bot’s advice.
In the midst of the pandemic, time lost for doctors can mean lives lost for patients, resulting in a clear need for the kind of at-home symptom checks Clara can provide. What Clara can’t account for is human nature, which may drive those with symptoms to seek out an evaluation by another actual human being. Any relief for medical personnel that Clara can provide is welcome, but with coronavirus cases steadily rising in the US, hopefully the CDC is prioritizing ways to ramp up testing and streamline treatment, as well as programming bots.