CDC Introduces Clara Bot, Attends To COVID-19 Concerns At Scale

A new coronavirus text-bot will be coming to a smartphone near you, and her name is Clara. As the rising tide of COVID-19 flows across the country and healthcare systems struggle to stay ahead of the wave, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is offering an online triage system for people who wish to self-check their risk level.

Designed in partnership with Microsoft Azure’s Healthcare Bot service, the CDC is introducing Clara to residents to address problems like emergency room bottlenecks when these systems are already overwhelmed by pandemic patients. Clara can be accessed by phone, computer, or any other device and offers guidance on whether a user’s symptoms are severe enough to require a trip to the hospital, or if they should recover at home.

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“Many have expressed great concern about the overwhelming demand COVID-19 is creating on resources such as urgent, emergency, and nursing care,” Microsoft said in a statement. “In particular, the need to screen patients with any number of cold or flu-like symptoms – to determine who has high enough risk factors to need access to limited medical resources and which people may more safely care for themselves at home.”

While Clara is not supposed to act as a stand-in for medical advice, the hope is that the bot will alleviate some of the burden on the healthcare system. Accessible to US residents, Clara asks the user several questions, including specific symptoms present, underlying medical conditions, and potential contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. She also explores the severity of symptoms experienced by the user, such as how difficult it is for them to breathe.

Across all providers, Microsoft’s customized corona-bot is responding to over a million messages a day from members of the public concerned about a COVID-19 infection. The Healthcare Bot is a scalable, cloud-based service offered to organizations who wish to rapidly build and roll out an AI-enabled bot for websites and applications geared towards the general public. Clara gives users a personalized health-related information experience in a conversational messaging format.

For those organizations that want to build their own COVID-19 bots, Microsoft is making a set of response templates that customers can adapt to their individual needs. Some of these parameters include risk assessment based on CDC guidelines, clinical triage based on CDC protocols, current answers to frequently asked questions, and worldwide statistics about the infection.

Providence is a large health system based out of Seattle, Washington. The provider offers services in seven of the Western states and provides its own version of the CDC's coronavirus bot named Grace. Using CDC guidelines and the organization's protocols, it was able to build an app in just three days. Similar to Clara, the bot communicates with Providence's users about the severity of their COVID symptoms.