An Auckland-based subsidiary of American medical technology company Vital Software has developed an online platform to self-diagnose coronavirus, designed to reduce the pressure on hospitals and medical facilities.
Vital Software launched its "Covid-19 checker" at 2am (9am Eastern time) on Saturday and so far more than 200,000 people worldwide have used it to check if they have symptoms of coronavirus. The company has approached the Ministry of Health with its platform and is in talks with the Bangladeshi and Brazilian governments to create local versions.
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The free web application puts users into three risk categories - low, medium, high - following a series of questions. It was developed in partnership with the Emory University of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, to enable the public to be able to distinguish the common cold or flu from Covid-19 and therefore prevent doctors' surgeries and hospitals from seeking unnecessary medical help.
Aaron Patzer, chief executive and founder of Vital, said his Auckland-based team had been working on the web application for the past three weeks, which was co-founded with emergency room doctor Dr Justin Schrager.
A team of 16 people based in Grafton developed the technology, Patzer told the Herald.
"In late February, my co-founder and I, Dr Schrager, looked around, saw that [Covid-19] was going to become an epidemic, and it was going to get big fast, and if there weren't any good usable tools out there where you could fill in your symptoms, fill in your pre-existing conditions; asthma, diabetes or if you are immuno-compromised, and how that played into your risk factor for coronavirus," Patzer said.
The Covid-19 checker has so far been extensively used by Americans, and about 2500 New Zealanders in the past 24 hours.
Patzer said the company plans to make the Covid-19 checker available in other languages, including Italian, Spanish, French and German. Vital does not make any money from the checker, he said.
"The primary goal of the application is to prevent a systemic overload of the healthcare system."
Patzer, who has degrees from Duke and Princeton Universities, founded Mint.com, America's largest personal finance tool, which he sold in 2009 for US$170 million ($300m).
He was vice-president of accounting software company Intuit, similar to Xero, though about 10 times bigger. For the past three years he has been working on Vital, which primarily creates software for hospital emergency rooms. It was founded in 2017 and has created an electronic medical records system that is used on devices that use artificial intelligence technology to predict if a patient is going to be discharged, and wait times for customers.
Paltzer said the Covid-19 checker would need to be used by millions of people to "prevent systemic overload" of hospitals and other medical facilities.
Similar self-diagnosis platforms have also been created and launched in the United States in the face of the growing coronavirus pandemic. New Zealand has 66 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and in the US, the figure has surpassed 24,000.
Deborah Burger, a registered nurse in California and president of National Nurses United, a union representing about 150,000 nurses across the country, has warned that these online tools may misclassify some severely ill patients and cause them to delay getting care.
"You could get a false reassurance because what you put in would indicate you're okay and you may not be," Burger told the New York Times.
Paltzer said the platform was not designed to replace medical advice, but to give people peace of mind and avoid unnecessarily visiting a doctor.