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Penn Medicine received a $2.5 million grant for its COVID Watch project. 

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Penn Medicine's COVID Watch project was granted $2.5 million by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to study the program's impact on patient outcomes, especially on those whose communities have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID Watch, launched by Penn Medicine in late March, is a platform that sends automated check-in text messages twice a day to patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are self-isolating at home. Designed to evaluate the severity of patients' symptoms, the text messages determine if patients need immediate medical attention based on their responses and urgently notify Penn Medicine nurses if a patient reports an escalation of symptoms. 

The program has enrolled over 5,400 patients as of Aug. 24. A Spanish language version launched in May has enrolled more than 140 patients, Penn Medicine News reported.

Penn Medicine will utilize the PCORI grant to determine if the COVID Watch program reduces disparities in care among Black and Latinx patients by providing greater access to telemedicine among communities of color. It will also assess the effectiveness of using home fingertip-pulse oximetry, which measures a patient's oxygen levels, according to the PCORI press release

The study on COVID Watch, led by Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Epidemiology Mucio Delgado, will be conducted from 2020 to 2022.

Telemedicine approaches have been widely adopted during the pandemic, but limited access to telemedicine may be exacerbating disparities for Black and Latinx patients, according to the COVID Watch project summary. Within the University of Pennsylvania Health System, Black and Latinx patients utilized video-visit services 15 percent less often than white patients.

According to federal data provided to The New York Times, Black and Latinx people in the United States have been three times as likely to become infected with COVID-19 as white residents and nearly twice as likely to die from the virus. 

PCORI granted $23 million in funding for seven studies to assess and optimize various healthcare approaches delivering care to COVID-19 patients. Additional recipients of the grant include approved studies from Cornell University's Joan and Sanford l. Weill Medical College, Pennsylvania State University's Hershey Medical Center, and the University of Southern California.