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Researchers found in a new study that those who enrolled in Penn Medicine's COVID Watch technology, benefited from a 68 percent reduction in mortality rate.

Credit: Riley Guggenhime

A study found that Penn Medicine’s COVID Watch technology saved two lives per week during the pandemic’s early days through an automated health check-in system powered by text message.

On Mar. 23, 2020, two weeks after Penn Medicine admitted its first COVID-19 patient, COVID Watch launched, allowing participants to track symptoms from home, Penn Medicine News reported. A team of registered nurses staffed the program and escalated patients with concerning conditions to a designated group of health care providers. As of today, nearly 20,000 individuals have enrolled in the program.

The Nov. 16 study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed the data of 7,865 COVID-19 patients who received care from Penn Medicine and determined that of the 3,488 who participated in COVID Watch, only three died within 30 days of enrollment, compared to 12 of the 4,377 who did not engage with the COVID Watch program. The researchers concluded that those who enrolled in COVID Watch benefited from a 64% reduction in mortality rate.

Patients who enrolled and actively engaged in COVID Watch were more likely to go to the hospital and seek treatment earlier than those who did not enroll in the program, significantly reducing the risk of death, Penn Medicine News reported.

Participants were texted routine check-in questions twice daily, such as “How are you feeling compared to 12 hours ago?” and “Is it harder than usual for you to breathe?” Answers to these questions allowed the COVID Watch team to recognize whether a patient needed to be treated in-person or whether they could continue tracking their symptoms at home, Penn Medicine News reported. Patients were called within an hour if the team of clinicians believed their situation should be elevated to hospitalized care.

“It’s always a challenge to distinguish those who are sick, but doing generally OK, from those who are really sick, and need our help,” David Do, assistant professor of clinical neurology and Penn Medicine physician who was involved in the creation and management of COVID Watch, wrote in an April 2020 Penn Medicine news release.

In August 2020, Penn Medicine received a $2.5 million grant by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to further study the program’s impact on patient outcomes over a two-year period, specifically considering the communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“Automation isn’t something that will replace human clinical care, but it is something that can extend it,” David Asch, one of the study’s authors and executive director of the Center for Health Care Innovation, told Penn Medicine News. “Without an automated system to help us watch over the thousands of COVID patients in our community, our doctors and nurses would have been stretched even thinner than they were.”