COVID-19 Symptom Checker launched to inform and help the Singapore public navigate care options
Friday, 3 April 2020 – When you or a family member experience symptoms that might be related to COVID-19, what information can help you stay calm and decide on the next course of action? Amidst the rapidly developing COVID-19 situation, making sense of information about the disease and choosing when and where to go for treatment can be overwhelming.
A team comprising clinicians and computer scientists from the National University Health System (NUHS), the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), and the MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT), has launched a publicly available online COVID-19 Symptom Checker.
The checker helps people with symptoms by suggesting preferred options for care based on their age, recent travel history, people they may have been exposed to, and most-importantly, the symptoms they might be having. The site does not collect personally identifiable data. The user receives immediate suggestions on possible next steps, be it continuing to monitor their symptoms or seeking medical attention at the appropriate healthcare setting. While the tool does not dispense medical advice, it helps with navigating the healthcare system.
Said Professor Robert Morris, Chief Technology Strategist, MOHT: “This triage tool helps people cut through the deluge of information, better understand the significance of the symptoms they are experiencing and get clear guidance about what steps they could take to seek care, and when.”
Professor John Eu-Li Wong, Special Advisor to NUHS, said: “Given the understandable concern that everyone has about COVID-19 and its association with common symptoms, we feel that harnessing smartphones with a simple guide on what to do and where to go for assessment would help both the public and the healthcare system. We will continue to update the Symptom Checker as we learn more about the disease and better understand what information everyone needs.”
The checker can also provide a source of reassurance for many of us who would like to seek guidance on how to keep healthy during the developing COVID-19 situation. It reminds those who are well to continue practices like social distancing, hand washing, and how to reach out if they do develop symptoms.
The impetus for developing the self-checker stemmed from statistics from MOH which showed 24 per cent of COVID-19 positive patients in Singapore had been doctor-hopping (i.e. consulting multiple doctors in a short period).
Teams from NCID, NUHS, and the National University of Singapore (NUS) provided the clinical advice for this platform. Recommendations are aligned with guidelines from the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The checker’s usability was then validated by a team led by Dr Franco Wong, Head of Jurong Polyclinic: surveys conducted found that nearly 60 per cent of respondents were open to using an online-based self-checker, and 79 per cent of respondents felt the self-checker was ‘easy to use’.
The team recognised that patients often wonder when to see a doctor, and if so, where to go. For example, they may not realise there are now 943 Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) in Singapore, and these are especially well-equipped to address COVID-19 concerns.
“The aim of the checker is to empower people and their families with the right information, support and resources to make an informed personal decision, act at the right time, and not have to make a dash to the emergency department,” said Dr Glorijoy Tan Shi En, Associate Consultant, NCID.
Added Associate Professor James Yip, Group Chief Medical Informatics Officer, NUHS: “More effective patient-direction can help reduce the burden on an already heavily-taxed healthcare system. The symptom checker is a way to optimise the health care system’s resources, while getting the best outcome for the patient.”
Following the initial rollout, there are plans to expand the scope of the checker to include pre-registration for consultations at GP clinics or PHPCs; access to telemedicine providers; information on waiting times at Emergency Departments; direct link-up with the appropriate healthcare facility for those who need testing; and a heat map on COVID-19 infection clusters.
Said Dr Praveen Deorani, Data Scientist, MOHT: “With more people using the checker, and with our subsequent analysis of how it is being used, we can then use machine learning techniques to track the behaviour of the virus (and the symptoms it manifests) so the patient can elect the right locus of treatment at the right time.”
The checker is being launched across three platforms, a dedicated website (www.sgcovidcheck.gov.sg), under COVID-19 Resources on the Ministry of Health website (www.moh.gov.sg) and as a bookmark in HealthHub. The Symptom Checker is an informational resource and does not replace instructions from healthcare providers or guidance from local health authorities.