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HUHS Considers Piloting App That Provides Medical Advice

Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira in his office in the Smith Campus Center.
Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira in his office in the Smith Campus Center. By Sanjana S. Ramrajvel
By Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard University Health Services is looking into piloting an app that would allow patients to diagnose their symptoms at home, HUHS Director Paul J. Barreira said in an interview Monday.

The app uses artificial intelligence to provide medical advice to users, according to Barreira. Other companies have already used the technology, and HUHS may pilot the app at the University, Barreira said.

The program would lead a patient through questions about their symptoms before offering treatment advice. The app would also collect data on its users, allowing providers to track diagnoses of their patients, according to Barreira.

“There’s a capacity for this to be incorporated into our medical record so we could see what happened,” Barreira said. “And then we could call the student the next day and say, ‘what’d you do with it?’”

Barreira said the app could improve efficiency and help HUHS better use its resources. By advising patients remotely, the technology could eliminate unnecessary doctor visits and cut down on wait times for appointments, allowing providers to reserve resources for those who need them most.

“It would cut down on emergency rooms,” Barreira said. “It would cut down on urgent care. Sometimes — particularly after hours — students just walk in just because it’s here. The question they ask could have been answered without being seen or could have been answered by a telephone operator.”

Though HUHS has not officially started plans for a pilot, Barreira suggested that the College could test the app in one of the undergraduate house neighborhoods: River East, River Central, River West, or the Quad.

Another location HUHS is considering for the pilot is Harvard Business School, as HUHS is in the process of closing their satellite clinic on its campus. Barreira said he thinks the Business School would be more readily accepting of the program.

“I think the Business School students are more likely to adopt it, because they’ve had more experience with self-care,” Barreira said. “They’re older. They’re across the river — that might as well be across the English Channel. It’s hard to get over here from the Business School. I could imagine them being more readily willing to adopt it.”

“We’re trying to think very creatively about what is the best way to connect with students,” he added.

—Staff writer Michelle Kurilla can be reached at michelle.kurilla@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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