Characteristics and Symptoms of App Users Seeking COVID-19-Related Digital Health Information and Remote Services: Retrospective Cohort Study

J Med Internet Res. 2020 Oct 20;22(10):e23197. doi: 10.2196/23197.


Background: Patient-facing digital health tools have been promoted to help patients manage concerns related to COVID-19 and to enable remote care and self-care during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also been suggested that these tools can help further our understanding of the clinical characteristics of this new disease. However, there is limited information on the characteristics and use patterns of these tools in practice.

Objective: The aims of this study are to describe the characteristics of people who use digital health tools to address COVID-19-related concerns; explore their self-reported symptoms and characterize the association of these symptoms with COVID-19; and characterize the recommendations provided by digital health tools.

Methods: This study used data from three digital health tools on the K Health app: a protocol-based COVID-19 self-assessment, an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven symptom checker, and communication with remote physicians. Deidentified data were extracted on the demographic and clinical characteristics of adults seeking COVID-19-related health information between April 8 and June 20, 2020. Analyses included exploring features associated with COVID-19 positivity and features associated with the choice to communicate with a remote physician.

Results: During the period assessed, 71,619 individuals completed the COVID-19 self-assessment, 41,425 also used the AI-driven symptom checker, and 2523 consulted with remote physicians. Individuals who used the COVID-19 self-assessment were predominantly female (51,845/71,619, 72.4%), with a mean age of 34.5 years (SD 13.9). Testing for COVID-19 was reported by 2901 users, of whom 433 (14.9%) reported testing positive. Users who tested positive for COVID-19 were more likely to have reported loss of smell or taste (relative rate [RR] 6.66, 95% CI 5.53-7.94) and other established COVID-19 symptoms as well as ocular symptoms. Users communicating with a remote physician were more likely to have been recommended by the self-assessment to undergo immediate medical evaluation due to the presence of severe symptoms (RR 1.19, 95% CI 1.02-1.32). Most consultations with remote physicians (1940/2523, 76.9%) were resolved without need for referral to an in-person visit or to the emergency department.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that digital health tools can help support remote care and self-management of COVID-19 and that self-reported symptoms from digital interactions can extend our understanding of the symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; cohort study; digital health; online tool; remote care; self-reported; symptom; symptom checker; telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques*
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Self Report