Stanford Medicine's COVID-19 symptom tracking initiative banks on Americans' 'sense of civic duty'

A team of Stanford (Calif.) Medicine scientists developed a national online survey to track Americans' COVID-19 symptoms, serving as a warning system for regions of the U.S. that are headed toward an uptick in cases.

Led by Lawrence "Rusty" Hofmann, MD, medical director of cardiac and interventional services and medical director of Digital Health at Stanford Medicine, the survey has reached more than 500,000 people. Dr. Hofmann told Becker's Hospital Review that he and his team want as many Americans as possible to complete the survey, whether or not they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.

From an epidemiological standpoint, only 4 percent of the population needs to respond for the survey to represent a well-distributed sample, according to Dr. Hofmann. However, he said he wants as many people as possible to participate in the project so they can create accurate service tools for other health systems and hospitals to monitor disease activity relative to their ZIP codes.

"My goal is to appeal to all Americans' sense of civic duty," Dr. Hofmann said. "We need this data to understand what's going on in the country, so we can figure out what policies and procedures we need in place until there's a vaccine."  

Those who opt into the free survey must complete an initial questionnaire that gathers information including ZIP codes, gender, healthcare worker status and current symptoms. Participants then receive daily follow up emails from Stanford Medicine inquiring about the status of their symptoms. Ultimately, the data will help researchers understand where COVID-19 is spreading across the country.

Dr. Hofmann wanted to build the tracker because COVID-19 symptoms precede hospitalization by 10 days. Using the survey data at population level, the tracker can provide a quick alert when COVID-19 is projected to rapidly spread across a geographic region. Such an alert could warn officials to reenact shelter in place orders. Conversely, the tracker also can signify when symptoms fall back down to a base level.

"We need a coordinated national effort to understand where there are going to be surges and where there are not because that's going to put different demands on the IT and physical infrastructures of different communities," Dr. Hofmann said. "Similarly, we need to understand if you lift the shelter in place order, you want to know people are getting sick before they show up to your emergency department."

The project has been an ongoing collaboration among Dr. Hofmann and other Stanford leaders, including Chief Medical Information Officer Christopher Sharp, MD; President and CEO David Entwistle; and Dean Lloyd Minor, MD.

Click here to learn more about the National Daily Health Survey.

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