Tech

CDC launches Coronavirus Self-Checker chatbot with the help of Microsoft

It aims to help ease the anxiety of people who may be exhibiting symptoms but are unsure.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has collaborated with Microsoft to introduce the Coronavirus Self-Checker, a tool designed to better help you understand the disease which has caused over 10,000 confirmed cases in the United States and claimed at least 187 lives.

The chatbot is another step Microsoft has taken to educate the public about the viral outbreak, after developing home-testing kits, a COVID-19 tracker tool, and a $100 million donation for global coronavirus research.

Are you sick? — At the very beginning of the chat, the bot asks if you are sick or if you have been in touch with someone who is sick. The conversation cuts short if you select no, noting that this "Coronavirus Self-Checker system is for those who may be sick." Although a considerable amount of data indicates that many COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic or presymptomatic, the bot is specifically for individuals displaying visible symptoms of the virus.

CDC

It's a chatbot, not a doctor — While the self-checker could prove to be beneficial to people wondering if they have contracted the coronavirus, it's important to note here that the chatbot should not be substituted for an actual doctor. The CDC guides as much:

The purpose of the Coronavirus Self-Checker is to help you make decisions about seeking appropriate medical care. This system is not intended for the diagnosis or treatment of disease or other conditions, including COVID-19. This system is intended only for people who are currently located in the United States.

The CDC wants to soothe your anxiety — The essential purpose of the Coronavirus Self-Checker is to help address the mounting concerns and anxieties people might have around the deadly respiratory disease. Maryam Gholami, who is the chief product officer of digital innovations Providence Health Services, wrapped up the gist of the chatbot in a comment to The Wall Street Journal, "It’s just something consumers need now to help with anxiety."

Thanks but we can do better — Turning to a chatbot with questions will help but to a certain and rather limited degree. People are more likely to feel at ease if they know that their governments are taking the outbreak seriously instead of downplaying it initially and then sending mixed messages. They're more likely to calm down if they know that their public health officials have enough and accurate COVID-19 tests — and that those tests aren't meant for the rich and famous only — and that their media networks aren't flip-flopping on the subject. A chatbot is a temporary balm in this scenario, not the panacea.