Digital triage: Novel strategies for population health management in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Healthc (Amst). 2020 Dec;8(4):100493. doi: 10.1016/j.hjdsi.2020.100493. Epub 2020 Oct 26.


The COVID-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for the U.S. healthcare system due to the staggering mismatch between healthcare system capacity and patient demand. The healthcare industry has been a relatively slow adopter of digital innovation due to the conventional belief that humans need to be at the center of healthcare delivery tasks. However, in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic, artificial intelligence (AI) may be used to carry out specific tasks such as pre-hospital triage and enable clinicians to deliver care at scale. Recognizing that the majority of COVID-19 cases are mild and do not require hospitalization, Partners HealthCare (now Mass General Brigham) implemented a digitally-automated pre-hospital triage solution to direct patients to the appropriate care setting before they showed up at the emergency department and clinics, which would otherwise consume resources, expose other patients and staff to potential viral transmission, and further exacerbate supply-and-demand mismatching. Although the use of AI has been well-established in other industries to optimize supply and demand matching, the introduction of AI to perform tasks remotely that were traditionally performed in-person by clinical staff represents a significant milestone in healthcare operations strategy.

Keywords: Artificial intelligence; COVID-19; Chatbot; Digital health; Pandemic; Triage.

MeSH terms

  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • COVID-19*
  • Clinical Decision-Making / methods
  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / organization & administration*
  • Hotlines / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Pandemics
  • Population Health Management
  • Triage / methods*