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First-Year Harvard Medical Students Develop COVID-19 Testing Review Platform

Two first-year students at Harvard Medical School have developed a Yelp-like user review platform for COVID-19 testing sites.
Two first-year students at Harvard Medical School have developed a Yelp-like user review platform for COVID-19 testing sites. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Virginia L. Ma and Meera S. Nair, Crimson Staff Writers

In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, two first-year Harvard Medical School students have developed a user review platform for COVID-19 testing sites.

The students — Dylan J. Cahill and J.C. Panagides — partnered with the crowdsolving company Groopit to develop their new platform, which collects first-hand, real-time experiences from individuals tested for COVID-19 in the U.S.

After first-year medical students were sent home in mid-March due to growing concerns over the pandemic, Cahill said he and Panagides began thinking of ways they could contribute to the fight against the novel coronavirus.

“Even though we were being taken out of our roles as medical students, there was some way that we could obviously contribute during this time, even remotely,” Cahill said.

In response to what they found to be “scattered information” available about testing centers, Cahill said the duo settled on creating a platform to track COVID-19 testing locations.

As the pandemic progressed and testing capacity increased, Cahill and Panagides expanded their project to document patients’ COVID-19 testing experience.

Tammy L. Savage, CEO and co-founder of Groopit, said the company was able to quickly adjust to the students’ new focus.

“One of the things that happens when you face a crisis is that the problems you're trying to solve and the information that you need from people changes as you go through the process,” Savage said. “The information that they were looking for changed, but Groopit is built so that almost instantaneously we can change what data they ask people to contribute.”

Cahill and Panagides’s platform asks users to share detailed information about their testing experience, serving “almost like Yelp reviews for COVID testing,” according to Panagides.

“We've decided that while people might be able to Google 'Where can I find the local testing center?,' there's still some hesitancy around that and getting a test,” Cahill said. “The tool now allows people to share more about what their experience was like, and that’ll include things like sharing what the wait time is, how long it took them to get test results, and what information was needed ahead of time.”

“We think that allowing people to see that information might make the experience a little bit easier and encourage them to go out and get tested themselves,” he added.

In order to ensure all data collection complies with HIPAA regulations regarding medical privacy and security, user data is “stripped of identity,” according to Savage.

“The critical piece of information that is protected under HIPAA is someone's medical history, because if they've gotten a test or a test result, then that's part of their medical history, and it needs to be protected,” Panagides added.

Panagides said he believes crowdsourcing itself will ensure a level of accuracy through a “system of checks and balances between users,” who can respond to each other’s reviews.

Savage also emphasized the ability of crowdsourcing to provide mass data for analysis.

“By looking at the data that’s contributed by a lot of people, you can start seeing the trends and the patterns, as well as the specific incidents and the anomalies, and have enough data that you can really start understanding the problem from multiple points of view,” Savage said.

As medical students, Cahill said he and Panagides are used to family members and friends asking for “knowledge and inspiration around these topics.” Now, they feel a sense of duty to help share such medical understanding more broadly.

“We thought by creating this app we could actually help serve that same mission but to a larger audience,” he said.

—Staff writer Virginia L. Ma can be reached at virginia.ma@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

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