A new service from Microsoft is designed to help people perform swine flu self-assessments in order to determine whether they have contacted the H1N1 virus. Based on material licensed from Emory University, the Redmond company has introduced the H1N1 Flu Response Center, a website set up to allow users to diagnose the illness in the absence of a doctor. Via the H1N1 self-assessment service, people who think they might have swine flu can not only gauge symptoms but also receive guidance on the steps that they need to take next. Microsoft notes that the H1N1 Flu Response Center is designed to complement the current healthcare resources that are stretched because of the flu pandemic.
“If current estimates are correct, many emergency departments across the nation could be overwhelmed by two groups of patients — those who have H1N1 and those who believe they have H1N1,” noted Angela Gardner, M.D., FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “It is going to be essential that we use every tool and service at our disposal to contain this illness, and online H1N1 self-assessment tools, such as the one offered by Microsoft, can be helpful in providing people with ways to determine whether they should seek emergency care.”
Microsoft is underlining that the self-assessment is set up exclusively for US residents, and in fact, one of the pieces of information that users need to supply is their zip code. The H1N1 Flu Response Center will need to know not just a general location, but also your age, the amount of days that you think you might have had the flu, whether your temperature went over 100.4º F (38º C) in the last 24 hours, if you have a sore throat, and if you feel short of breath. Answering yes to all questions above means that you might in fact have contracted H1N1, and need to see a doctor immediately.
“It is already clear that certain people are more vulnerable to the effects of H1N1 flu virus than others,” added Dr. Arthur Kellermann, professor of emergency medicine and an associate dean of the Emory School of Medicine. “By providing an at-home tool that can help users evaluate whether they need to see a provider before they head to the hospital, we can encourage those who are severely ill or at risk for serious illness to contact their doctor, and reassure everyone else that it is safe and prudent to recover at home. This will reduce the number of people needlessly exposed to H1N1 influenza in crowded clinic and ER waiting rooms, and allow doctors and nurses to focus their attention on those who need them most.”
Microsoft has the possibility to collect data from the users that perform the self-assessment. However, the Redmond company won’t store or share the information, unless the users specifically agree to this. The software giant underlined that patients should not substitute the H1N1 Flu Response Center for real medical services, and indicated that users should only use the service for self-assessment, but that ultimately they will need to see a doctor if they are ill.
“Any pandemic has the potential to create major disruptions in society,” noted David Cerino, general manager, Microsoft Health Solutions Group. “Now more than ever, we are in a position to implement solutions to help people make better decisions during these outbreaks, such as social distancing, because of the technological advancements that companies like Microsoft have made over the past few years.”