COVID-19 Virtual Assistant screens symptoms to guide care


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To assist users, the UW Medicine COVID-19 Virtual Assistant uses a speech recognition and natural language understanding technologies.

A UW Medicine COVID-­19 Virtual Assistant is now available to streamline screening and guidance for people wanting to know if they might have the pandemic coronavirus disease.

This tool was developed using Amazon Web Services (AWS) with techologies including Amazon Lex and AWS Lambda. The Virtual Assistant can be accessed online at the UW Medicine website, uwmedicine.org.

It can also be accessed by phone, where it works through speech recognition.

The Virtual Assistant phone number is 855.520.2285.

“There are a lot of concerned individuals in our community who are worried they might have COVID-19,” said Carrie Priebe, senior director of the Enterprise Access and Innovation team at UW Medicine.

“We needed to find a way to triage these patients quickly so we could provide those who don’t need testing peace of mind, and for those who do need testing, the opportunity to do so as soon as possible,” she added.

The Virtual Assistant is built using Amazon Lex, an automatic speech recognition and natural language understanding technology that allows developers to quickly build intelligent conversational applications. It runs on AWS, and is seamlessly integrated with the UW Medicine telephone system and the UW Medicine COVID-19 website. It is available to interact with people 24/7. It is also offered as an option for patients who call the UW Medicine COVID-­19 information line or most of the clinic phone numbers.

The Virtual Assistant asks a series of questions about symptoms and presently known risk factors. When done, people either receive reassurance or are connected to UW Medicine for scheduling a COVID-­‐19 test or a telehealth visit with a UW Medicine provider. The Virtual Assistant can triage an individual in a matter of minutes.

In designing and testing the Virtual Assistant, the development teams worked closely with infectious disease physician Dr. John Lynch, associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

Nicholas Mah, a senior consultant with the Enterprise Access and Innovation team at UW Medicine, said that he was amazed how quickly the phone version took off and its low abandon rate. Very few the people left the interactive program without completing it.

The Virtual Assistant, along with drive-­‐up testing, are part of UW Medicine’s ongoing efforts to make COVID-­19 initial evaluation and screening easier and quicker for patients. The UW Medicine Care Line phone, staffed by nurses for more acute cases, and telehealth web consults continue to be available.

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