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New ‘HouseCall’ App to Tackle Spread of Infectious Disease on Campus

Members of Global Alliance for Medical Innovation, a student-run organization, are working to develop a mobile application for symptom reporting to Harvard University Health Services.
Members of Global Alliance for Medical Innovation, a student-run organization, are working to develop a mobile application for symptom reporting to Harvard University Health Services. By Delano R. Franklin
By Virginia L. Ma, Crimson Staff Writer

Members of Global Alliance for Medical Innovation, a student-run organization, are working to develop a mobile application for symptom reporting to Harvard University Health Services in collaboration with Organismic and Evolutionary Biology professor Pardis C. Sabeti.

The application, called HouseCall, would allow students to report symptoms remotely and receive consultation and treatment in their rooms, rather than going to HUHS. The developers hope this will minimize the spread of infectious diseases on campus.

The application was inspired by recent discoveries by Sabeti’s lab group regarding the 2016-2017 mumps outbreak on Harvard’s campus. With over 60 confirmed cases, the outbreak served as a reminder of the many spots on campus vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases, including the HUHS waiting room, Sabeti said.

Global Alliance for Medical Innovation founder Sreekar Mantena ’22 said the goal of the application is to minimize spread of infectious diseases, such as mumps, influenza, and coronavirus.

“Coronavirus, as a respiratory pathogen, is passed on by droplet-based transmission, so being able to limit such an infectious disease pathogen would be really powerful in improving our ability for public health response,” Mantena said.

“With infectious diseases, obviously, once you leave the room you’re in contact with a bunch of peers, students, HUHS members, faculty and that leads to a lot of spread on campus,” he added.

HouseCall would give students a way to report illnesses and receive care, all from the comfort of their bed. After reporting symptoms, a member of HUHS or someone in the House system would receive the report and go to the student’s room to perform a rapid diagnostic test and provide the necessary treatment for the diagnosed illness, Mantena said.

Sabeti said this reporting process would not diminish the amount of information health care practitioners get from a patient.

“Instead of going to the pharmacy to get your medicine, why don’t we bring it to you? And when we bring it to you, why don’t we get more information about your symptoms?” Sabeti said.

Mantena said the group hopes to have the app ready for rollout in three to four weeks.

While the short-term goal is to implement the app in the the Houses, the group hopes to eventually take the framework of HouseCall to other parts of the world, such as West Africa.

“When someone feels sick, they can report their symptoms and then a community health worker could come to their house to do a rapid diagnostic test and ensure everything’s okay, give treatment, and especially on a larger scale like on a country scale, being able to track specific cases with geospatial and also diagnostic test data would be really powerful,” Mantena said.

Mantena said the group hopes the implementation of HouseCall on Harvard’s campus can serve as a test run for such broader implementation.

“Being able to do a field trial of a system like this at Harvard would be really credible because we have a really great, controlled environment to work in,” he said.

—Staff writer Virginia L. Ma can be reached at virginia.ma@thecrimson.com.

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