Online Covid-19 symptom checker launched to help Singaporeans navigate healthcare options

The tool assists users who may have symptoms. PHOTO: SGCOVIDCHECK.COM

SINGAPORE - An online system has been created to help people with flu-like symptoms decide if they need to remain at home, see a doctor, visit a hospital or call for an ambulance.

Launched on Friday (April 3), the Covid-19 Symptom Checker assists users, who may have symptoms, in navigating the local healthcare system by ticking a few boxes.

It was created by a team comprising clinicians and computer scientists from the National University Health System (NUHS), National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), and the MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation (MOHT).

Users will have to select their age, recent travel history, the people they have been exposed to, and the symptoms they are having.

The result will tell them to either continue monitoring their symptoms, or to seek medical attention at the appropriate healthcare setting.

Professor Robert Morris, who is the chief technology strategist at MOHT said that it 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".

The triage tool was developed after statistics from the Health Ministry (MOH) showed that close to one in four Covid-19 patients had consulted multiple doctors before testing positive for the virus.

Acknowledging that patients may not know when to see a doctor, or where to go, Dr Glorijoy Tan Shi En, who is an associate consultant at the NCID said that 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".

Associate Professor James Yip, group chief medical informatics officer at NUHS also added that more effective patient-direction can help reduce the burden on an already heavily taxed healthcare system.

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"The symptom checker is a way to optimise the healthcare system's resources, while getting the best outcome for the patient," he said.

The system was tested with 69 users on March 23 and March 24 by a team led by Dr Franco Wong, head of Jurong Polyclinic. The trial runs validated the usability of the checker.

The team now hopes to expand its scope by including pre-registration for consultations at general practitioner (GP) clinics or Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs), access to telemedicine providers, and information on waiting times at emergency departments, among others.

Dr Praveen Deorani, who is a data scientist at MOHT said with more people using the checker, and with subsequent analysis of how it is being used, the developers 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 can be accessed at the website, or under the Covid-19 resources on the MOH website. Here are answers to some questions users may have:

What is the Covid-19 Symptom Checker?

It is a Web-based screening tool which allows individuals who experience flu-like symptoms amid the Covid-19 outbreak to run a quick self-check on their symptoms and receive advice on their next step.

How does it help?

The tool is a good information resource when one feels unwell and is unsure of what to do next.

It helps individuals remain calm, and to refrain from doctor-hopping amid the evolving situation.

This could help reduce community transmission, allay fears that people might have of their symptoms and of contracting Covid-19 when visiting a healthcare facility.

Does it collect or share my data?

The checker was validated by a team led by Dr Franco Wong, who is head of Jurong Polyclinic.

Following earlier test runs, NUHS conducted surveys and found that nearly 60 per cent of respondents were open to using an online-based checker, and 79 per cent of respondents felt that the checker was "easy to use".

The site does not collect any personal identifiable data, but information collected offers an overview of the different types of patients who are worried about the Covid-19 virus.

The data provide insights on public concerns and needs, and could help MOH with patient education and communication.

Is the tool aligned with the local health institutions?

Yes, it is jointly launched by teams from the NCID and NUHS, who provided clinical advice for the platform.

The recommendations are also aligned with MOH and World Health Organisation guidelines.

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