The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using a health care bot to help the agency screen for coronavirus infections.

The bot, developed by Microsoft and provided to the CDC for free, can assess symptoms and risk factors for people who fear they may have the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

A Microsoft spokesperson said March 20 that the bot will initially be available on the CDC’s website for people in select areas but will expand over time.

The bot is meant to reduce the strain on the health care providers by reducing the amount of patients who come to facilities thinking they may have the virus. It uses artificial intelligence to allow the “CDC and other frontline organizations respond to these inquiries, freeing up doctors, nurses, administrators and other healthcare professionals to provide critical care to those who need it,” according to Microsoft.

“Public health organizations, hospitals and others on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response need to be able to respond to inquiries, provide the public with up-to-date outbreak information, track exposure, quickly triage new cases and guide next steps,” wrote Hadas Bitran, group manager for Microsoft Healthcare Israel, and Jean Gabarra, general manager of health AI, in a blog post. “Many have expressed great concern about the overwhelming demand COVID-19 is creating on resources such as urgent, emergency and nursing care.”

The bot asks several questions about risk factors, like caring for someone sick and personal symptoms, and recommends various actions depending on the response, such as going to the doctor or calling emergency services.

The blog post also says that the bot can be tailored to provide risk assessment based on CDC guidelines, clinical triage based on CDC protocols, up-to-date answers to frequently asked questions and COVID-19 worldwide metrics.

Several health care providers in the West and Southeast regions of the United States have also adopted the bot, according to the blog post.

There are more than 15,000 coronavirus cases in the United States.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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