Quebec government looking at online triage for COVID-19 testing
MONTREAL -- Have you been stuck on government phone lines for hours or even days trying to get through to a nurse to find out if you should be tested for COVID-19?
There may be some online relief for your anxiety and worn-out patience coming soon.
The Quebec government confirmed Friday it is looking to join other provincial governments in adding an online tool in its battle against COVID-19. The interactive and simple questionnaire would allow people who are wondering if a tickle in the throat or slight fever means they should be tested for the virus or not.
“It is really, really going to increase the volume of people who are going to be sent to testing, but at the same time it’s going to screen very well.” said Health Minister Danielle McCann when asked about the tool by CTV News. “We are testing it right now.”
Quebec pharmacist and technology start-up developer Philippe Chartrand had already been doing his own tests and came up with his own bilingual online triage tool to help fellow pharmacists and clinics and is offering it online to the public for free.
He separated the government’s own recommendations into three categories – low risk, low to moderate risk and moderate to high risk and with a point system, built a scale to evaluate risk. He has refined it continuously to include things such as “wet” or “dry” cough- since a dry cough is often listed as a symptom of COVID-19 while a wet cough could be something else.
Chartrand says it take about 40 seconds to do his online test which can quickly provide great peace of mind and also save massive amounts of time and frustration for those who can’t get through to jammed government phone lines.
“That’s one of the benefits of this software”, he says. “One of the main positive feedbacks we’ve been getting is that a lot of people have no (exposure) factors like being in contact with someone who got the virus or coming back from a country outside of country and these people don’t even know if they’re at risk” he said.
Since he made it available last week, over 230,000 people have already used it and he is getting a lot of love and also some relief.
“So they have a lot of questions and they call the government lines and we’re getting a lot of feedback like –ok- good. I’m still at low risk. I’m still going to adopt the social distancing measures and self-isolate in necessary. But I think that’s been one of the main benefits of this project.”
Several other public health agencies across the country have already posted similar tools on their websites. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and Newfoundland-Labrador all have similar tests that ask about 7-10 questions and can be completed in under a minute.
For those who have had nothing but a sore throat but have no other symptoms and have not recently travelled out of the country or been in contact with people who have recently travelled, they can take thousands of people off of over-taxed government phone lines.
“It is helping us direct traffic from health links and get people important information and assessment. This tool had 53 thousand hits yesterday alone, said Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Brent Roussin at their daily update on Wednesday.
There are some though who worry it could give a false sense of security to people who come out with a “no test necessary” since it’s estimated twenty per cent of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic.
Chartrand acknowledges this but says “they are at relatively low risk and if don’t maybe call as much, it will leave space on the lines for those with symptoms or at high risk so in that way it may help. We also recommend to call if there’s any hesitation.”
It may also be why Quebec has been so cautious in agreeing to the use of such a tool, until now.
But today while the government added it is adding more telephone lines to help frustrated Quebecers get questions about COVID-19, McCann confirmed that her health ministry is very close to adding a similar online triage tool to its COVID-19 war chest.
“And I think we are going to be able to confirm to you very, very soon that it is effective … and working very well."
Chartrand says government officials have also been in touch with him about his invention, which he is still offering for free. “They are saluting the initiative but they are working on a lot of complex issues so we’ll see. “. He also praises the government for all it has done to now. “They’re doing everything they can, they’re doing a great job.”
Meantime, he is constantly updating his bilingual triage tool to include new government recommendations like for those over 70 to stay at home and any other new knowledge about COVID-19. He is just happy if his test can be part of the massive effort against COVID-19.
“It’s really helping in time-management right now, even for doctors, so it’s really cool.”