ANNAPOLIS, Md. – As telehealth use rises during the coronavirus pandemic, a new online symptom tracker tool is helping patients evaluate their risk for the disease.

UnitedHealthcare’s COVID symptom checker will be updated as guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evolve, according to Natalie Williamson, a mid-Atlantic vice president for the health insurer.

She says the tool is an advanced application that’s free for anyone and isn’t limited to UnitedHealthcare members.

“The symptom checker actually uses AI-powered algorithms and technology that factors in answers to questions along the way and gives answers to individuals based on the latest clinical guidelines,” she explains.

Williamson says the tool provides answers to questions and guidance for people. For example, it can recommend that you self-quarantine or go to an emergency room or a testing center.

Williamson says using telehealth has been essential to dealing with the pandemic. She points out that enhancements such as the symptom tracker are causing a significant increase in the use of telehealth services across the country, especially in Maryland.

“In Maryland, the number of telehealth visits for January through April of this year has exceeded by over 430% the number of telehealth visits for all of 2019,” she points out.

A national survey by the physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins found that close to half of doctors now are using telehealth to treat patients as the COVID-19 pandemic changes how physicians deliver care. That’s up from 18% of doctors using telemedicine two years ago.

Disclosure: United Healthcare-MD contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service – MD