Georgia to lean into telehealth, web portal in COVID-19 fight

A screen grab of the desktop version of the AU Health ExpressCare app, a screening tool launched statewide to help Georgians access testing for the coronavirus.

As Georgia eases its shelter-in-place order and reopens some businesses, the state will rely heavily on a smartphone app to lead people to get coronavirus tests and a separate web portal to help track infected persons and isolate others who might have been exposed.

On Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp announced a free telehealth app developed by Augusta University Health System has been expanded statewide to allow Georgians to be screened by a medical clinician via video chat or phone. If residents meet symptom criteria to warrant a test, or are first responders, health workers and other high-risk individuals, they will be provided an appointment at the nearest state testing center.

The other web tool, a portal produced by a company called MTX Group in coordination with Google, will help the state perform contact tracing of people who test positive for COVID-19. Less is known about the portal, but officials said it will help rapidly expand the labor-intensive process to identify others who have been exposed and isolate and test those individuals.

The app, AU Health ExpressCare, launched in mid-March for the system's employees, but AU Health expanded it days later to provide COVID-19 screening in its service area. The app works on Apple and Android phones and is accessible via computer at augustaexpresscare.org.

For those without internet access or a smartphone, residents can call a hotline at 706-721-1852.

A screen grab of the smartphone version of the AU Health ExpressCare app, a screening tool launched statewide to help Georgians access testing for the coronavirus.

To date, more than 9,600 patients in Georgia and South Carolina have been screened via the service, said Dr. Lauren Williams, AU Health director of population health. She said medical school faculty have been tapped to bolster the ranks of providers available 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.

In the app, users create a profile and login. A user can also create a profile for a loved one, Williams said.

A user can select from a roster of available clinicians and will be prompted with a series of questions about medical history and symptoms, before being placed in a queue for a video chat with a provider.

Dr. Matt Lyon, an AU Health emergency medicine physician, said the telehealth screening option helps to limit the spread of the virus, while offering the next-best thing to an in-person visit.

If a patient needs a test, “I would tell you right away. I will arrange that for you and through the app we put in an order,” Lyon said. “You will get notice from a nurse-managed hotline for an appointment.”

Results, available in 24 to 72 hours, will be posted on AU Health’s patient portal and all patients will receive a follow-up call. For positive patients, a provider will discuss treatment options or procedures for self-quarantine.

If a patient tests positive, Kemp said a clinician also will guide patients through the use of the web portal to help the state Department of Public Health (DPH) automate contact tracing.

DPH declined to make anyone available for an interview and so far, the state has released few specifics about the MTX/Google project for tracing. In his press conference Monday, Kemp described the project as “a self-reporting app” in which DPH, with patient consent, “can use enhanced contact monitoring and tracing.”

COVID-19 has far surpassed in number the reported figures of other diseases this year that DPH tracks through contact tracing, State Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said Monday.

“It’s literally going to take a village for us to work together to do this,” she said.

DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said contact tracing will be conducted out of all 18 state health districts, and staff will be supplemented by public health and medical school students and potentially the National Guard.

COVID-19 screening app

Augusta University Health System, the hospital system tied to the state's medical school, developed a telehealth app to screen patients for COVID-19 and allow them to talk to a medical provider to determine eligibility for a test. AU Health ExpressCare is available at augustaexpresscare.org or via smartphone apps available for Apple and Android smartphones. Residents without internet or a smartphone can call (706) 721-1852. The services is available 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week.

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