April 30, 2020

Covid-19 roundup: Google's new chatbot helps hospitals screen for Covid-19

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    Drugmakers ramp up vaccine testing, Abbott Laboratories sends out one million Covid-19 diagnostic tests, and more.

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    • Google and its sister company Verily Life Sciences have developed a chatbot, called the Covid-19 Pathfinder, that hospitals and health systems can use to screen patients for Covid-19. Vivian Lee, president at Verily Health Platforms, and Vindell Washington, CCO at the company, said the chatbot is meant to "close the Covid-19 information gap" by answering patient questions using information from CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO). Hospitals will be able to feature the chatbot on their websites (Cohen, "Transformation Hub," Modern Healthcare, 4/23).

    • WHO is collaborating with various countries, organizations, and industry groups to launch a project to develop new treatments, tests, and vaccines for Covid-19. The goal of the project is to ensure Covid-19 treatment products will be available globally, regardless of a country's income level. The United States currently has no plans to join the project, but a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State said the department is "learning more about the … proposal" (Silverman, STAT News, 4/24; Nebehay, Reuters, 4/25).

    • Abbott Laboratories has shipped more than one million of its rapid Covid-19 diagnostic tests to all 50 U.S. states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Pacific Islands. The ID NOW Covid-19 test, which FDA granted emergency use authorization a little less than a month ago, can turn around "positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes," according to Abbott. Abbott said most of the tests have been sent to areas with major Covid-19 outbreaks (Japsen, Forbes, 4/25).

    • Cleveland Clinic is establishing a research arm that will use data from EHRs to study emerging pathogens, including the new coronavirus. The Center for Global and Emerging Pathogens Research will develop analytic tools that can predict the risk and outcomes of certain viral diseases in patients, including Covid-19, Dengue fever, and AIDS. The research center, which has been in development for the past 18 months, is currently focusing research efforts on how the new coronavirus causes disease in patients (Bazzoli, Healthcare IT News, 4/24).

    • IBM has launched a blockchain network to help health care organizations and government agencies address medical supply chain shortages caused by Covid-19. The network, called Rapid Supplier Connect, will allow the organizations to identify new vendors of equipment, devices, and supplies. The network will be available to organizations free-of-cost until Aug. 31 (Landi, Fierce Healthcare, 4/27; IBM release, 4/27).

    • Mayo Clinic is partnering with Amazon to allow Amazon Echo and Echo Dot users to easily access CDC guidance on the Covid-19 epidemic. Users can enable the "Mayo Clinic Answers on Covid-19" skill on their Echo devices to ask questions about the new coronavirus and receive answers from Mayo Clinic experts as well as information from CDC. The tool also includes a Covid-19 self-assessment tool so users who are experiencing mild symptoms of the disease can monitor their symptoms (Dyrda, Becker's Hospital Review, 4/27).

    • Pfizer on Tuesday announced U.S. testing of its experimental vaccine to prevent the new coronavirus will begin as soon as next week. According to the Wall Street Journal, the announcement means Pfzier's vaccine, if successful, could be ready for emergency use as soon as the fall. Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center, said the efforts have likely been expedited by new vaccine-making technologies and rapid discoveries about the new coronavirus. However, Orenstein cautioned that it's unlikely a safe and effective vaccine will be available any time soon (Hopkins/Rockoff, Wall Street Journal, 4/28).

    • Quest Diagnostics announced Tuesday it will allow patients to order an antibody test for the new coronavirus online without a doctor's visit. Quest said it would screen patients online to determine whether they need an antibody test and then will send the patients to have their blood drawn at a Quest Diagnostics laboratory. Test results will be available one to two days after the lab visit, according to Quest. The test, which costs $119, is designed to help people who believe they were exposed to the virus, but were unable to access diagnostic testing, the company said (Higgins-Dunn, CNBC, 4/28).

    • NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) on Wednesday announced that preliminary data suggest Gilead Sciences' experimental Covid-19 treatment remdesivir is effective in treating Covid-19, according to preliminary data analysis of a randomized controlled clinical trial. The analysis found that "hospitalized patients with advanced Covid-19 and lung involvement who received remdesivir recovered faster than similar patients who received placebo." NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said the study data is "very important proof of concept," but warned the data is preliminary and did not show "knockout" results (Herper/Feuerstein, STAT News, 4/29).

    • Northwell Health has started a clinical trial to test the heartburn medication famotidine as a potential treatment for Covid-19. Kevin Tracey, president of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, said the research team decided to test the medication after reports from China showed that some Covid-19 patients who took the drug had better health outcomes than patients who did not take famotidine. Northwell plans to enroll 1,200 patients in the trial (Vaidya, Becker's Hospital Review, 4/28).

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