Digital Health Research and Solutions are Fueling Responses to COVID-19

The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred rapid changes across healthcare, initiated the adoption of new digital health tools and services, and inspired new lines of research to understand and fight the novel coronavirus. We’re highlighting just a few of these developments below.


In March, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the news of changes to enforcement of HIPAA penalties related to telehealth and patient communication during the COVID-19 National Emergency. In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded coverage for telehealth and telemedicine visits. These changes, along with increased demand, have led to broader adoption and utilization of telemedicine services worldwide.

Health Solutions Featured ImageAt UPMC, the patient portal, called MyUPMC, serves as the digital front door for patient care and communications. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the average number of video visits has increased by more than 100-fold. Inbound messages to providers via MyUPMC also have experienced a large increase – rising by 31 percent – as more patients utilize the secure messaging function on the platform. In addition to the existing MyUPMC portal, leaders from UPMC recently discussed the ways that telemedicine in the intensive care unit will allow for safe, high-quality care during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, UPMC Enterprises spin-out company Infectious Disease Connect (ID Connect) was formed to provide access to top-tier, academic infectious disease expertise via a telemedicine solution. During the current pandemic, ID Connect’s specialists continue to fully service existing customers while also adding support for urgent needs to as many hospitals as possible through telephonic consultations.

Screening and Diagnosis

Along with traditional telemedicine, COVID-19 has led hospitals and tech companies to launch symptom checkers and chatbots to screen for at-risk patients. These systems reduce the burden on healthcare personnel while pointing patients to credible information and follow up steps. More advanced chatbots may go beyond simple Q&A to help patients schedule appointments or get connected with providers in emergency situations. Hospitals and companies are also developing and deploying AI tools designed to detect signs of COVID-19 from chest CT or X-ray scans. Eventually, these methods could also be used to monitor disease over time and to forecast which patients will need additional care. Emerging efforts in impacted countries focus on identifying people who have recovered from COVID-19, who many have some level of protection against the disease due to immune response.

Development of Therapeutics to fight COVID-19

Large and small companies, along with academic research teams, are applying AI and machine learning to accelerate the discovery of therapies that could help fight COVID-19. Benevolent AI and Insilico Medicine were two of the first companies to announce that they had identified potential drug candidates for COVID-19 using advanced analytics. AI is being used to understand the structure of the novel coronavirus, identify potential disease targets, determine whether existing drugs might be repurposed to treat COVID-19, and much more.

The rapid changes happening across healthcare show that innovation is crucial. Solutions powered by digital health are allowing for enhanced connectivity, research, and patient care – a message that resonates well with our PHDA mission.