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Penn Medicine uses the Triage Tool through a chat box on their website and patient portal. Credit: Serena Jankovic

Penn Medicine’s COVID-19 Triage Tool was effective in assessing patient symptom severity, according to a recent study.

The Triage Tool was delivered through a chat box on the Penn Med website and patient portal. It asked patients yes or no questions on a variety of symptoms and health information and assigned them a symptom severity category based on their answers, according to the study.

The Triage Tool was used 30,321 times to assess 20,930 unique patients between May 2020 and January 2021, according to the study. Of the 782 patient encounters included in the analysis, the researchers found only six instances where the patient’s symptoms were more severe than the Triage Tool predicted. 

In addition to the low rate of underestimating a patient’s symptom severity, the tool often delivered a more conservative assessment than a clinician would out of an abundance of caution. 70.1% of patients were assigned a higher severity level than a clinician would have, while the tool matched the clinician’s assessment 29.2% of the time, according to the study.

A key aim of the Triage Tool was to document the information collected by the patient’s answers and provide it to the clinician assessing the patient, Penn Medicine News reported. This tool differs from other symptom checkers that direct patients to speak to their doctors, who would then have to repeat the evaluation. This aspect of the tool was especially useful for doctors at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the limited availability of clinicians, according to Penn Medicine News.

The Triage Tool was discontinued in May 2021 due to a drop in use. The development of future tools like it should focus on accessibility to older adults, senior author John D. McGreevey III, an associate chief medical information officer at Penn Med, told Penn Medicine News. 

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania similarly used chatbots during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow pregnant women to report their symptoms and receive medical advice from home to limit their exposure to COVID-19.