Google's sister company Verily Life Sciences has joined the mix of companies offering COVID-19 screening tools that hospitals can add to their websites.
The screener, called the COVID-19 Pathfinder, takes the form of a chatbot or voicebot—essentially personified computer programs that can instant-message or speak to human users in plain English.
Hospitals across the U.S. have been implementing different types of chatbots to provide users who visit their websites with information about COVID-19 or to triage patients with symptoms to the right site of care. Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hosts its own symptom-checker chatbot for the coronavirus on its website.
Verily developed a template for its chatbot service with Google Cloud, but its hospital customers program the chatbot to respond with answers and resources relevant for their patients.
San Joaquin General Hospital in California, Western Wisconsin Health and Morehouse Healthcare in Georgia are already using Verily's COVID-19 Pathfinder.
The tool is meant to help "close the COVID-19 information gap" by centralizing information from organizations like the CDC and the World Health Organization, according to Dr. Vivian Lee, president at Verily Health Platforms, and Dr. Vindell Washington, chief clinical officer at Verily Health Platforms.
"Many of the COVID-19 questions asked by patients and community members can be addressed with the latest guidance from public health authorities, but information is often scattered and frequently changing," they wrote in a blog post Thursday.
Patients access Verily's COVID-19 Pathfinder through hospitals or health systems that partner with the company.
That contrasts Verily's other major COVID-19 project, an online screener designed to assess users for COVID-19 risk and direct suspected cases to testing sites set up by the company, which users access directly through the company's website. That project sparked privacy concerns—including from a group of five Democratic senators—on account of its connection with Google.
That testing project launched last month in two counties in California. Now, it's available to people living in select counties in California, Delaware, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
"We're continuing to work with our partners across the industry daily to understand their evolving needs and how we can continue to support our global community," Lee and Washington wrote. "Our team is hard at work expanding features and functionality to support more information sharing, symptom tracking and workforce management."