9/09/2021 | BlogPost
An online tool used by people in Italy to manage their potential exposure to COVID-19 using a simple chat interface has shown that it can spot emerging trends days ahead of the national surveillance system.
The decision support system (DSS) – developed by Italian digital health startup Paginemediche – provided a way for people to assess and interpret their symptoms and provide guidance on what to do next, such as self-isolate or seek out a test.
It was made available nationally early on in the pandemic via several online sources including the landing pages of regional health systems, and had been in operation for a year at the time of an analysis of its results, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
The study compared the trends seen in online sessions with the chatbot with the number of COVID-19 cases reported by the national health authorities, and found that it picked up signals of a spike in cases several days earlier.
The researchers examined around 75,000 online DSS sessions, including around 65,00 from people with symptoms and almost 20,000 close contacts of individual with COVID-19. They identified three peaks in usage – early on in the pandemic, in October 2020 and in March 2021 – that preceded the surge in notified COVID-19 cases by around a week.
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