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COVID-19 Chatbot

A Penn team led by Roy Rosin, MBA, and Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, and a team from Google have created an AI chatbot to help answer common questions related to COVID-19.

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This chatbot helps offload call volume from Penn Medicine’s phone lines to unburden our clinicians and shorten wait times for patients, while also making it faster and easier to find answers whether you’re a nurse managing the hotline or an anxious patient seeking accurate information. The work that is being done through this is being open sourced, and Google is supporting making this available to health systems worldwide in 23 languages.

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COVID-19 Watch

David Asch, MD, MBA; and Mohan Balachandran, MA, MS; and the Way to Health team have led the creation of COVID-19 Watch, a way to monitor low/moderate risk COVID+ patients at home.

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Patients whose symptoms are concerning are escalated to receive clinical support, allowing our clinicians to focus their attention where it is most needed.

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COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics (CHIME)

A partnership between the PAIR Center, the Penn Medicine Predictive Analytics team, and Pulmonary/Critical Care and UPHS clinical operations leaders led to the COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics (CHIME) model.

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The COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics (CHIME) model has been used around the country to model, for a specific location, anticipated number of days until the peak, size of the peak, probability of exceeding existing capacity, and many other parameters.

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Delaware Surveys

A CHIBE team conducted three survey data collections in Delaware: (1) Foundational research to learn more about beliefs residents of Delaware held around wearing a mask and downloading a digital contact tracing app…

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(2) Mask-wearing message concept testing to improve proposed message strategies to encourage wearing a mask or other face-covering (with a national opt-in sample), and (3) Digital contact tracing app message testing to assess whether detailed information about privacy in a message affected people’s intentions to download a contact tracing app (again with a national opt-in sample). Those involved in the project were Drs. Laura Gibson, Kevin Volpp, Alison Buttenheim, Erica Dixon, Marissa Sharif, Bob Hornick (of LDI and Annenberg) and Joe Cappella (of LDI and Annenberg).

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Vaccine Roll-Out

Our researchers have been elected to national committees to provide a framework for the equitable allocation of vaccines for the coronavirus.

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CHIBE researchers have also written op-eds on behavior change techniques to use to encourage vaccine uptake, offered 5 behaviorally informed strategies for a national COVID-19 vaccine promotion program, and published extensively on the topic of social justice in vaccine allocation.

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CHIBE assisted Pennsylvania in creating and increasing sign-ups in COVID Alert PA, a free app designed to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and which has been used by nearly 900,000 Pennsylvanians as of April 2021.

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The app boosts traditional contact tracing efforts, casting a wider net beyond the people that an individual knows they spent time with. It can help notify people who may have been nearby a person with the virus while standing in line at the supermarket, waiting for a bus, or in some other public area. If a user has been near a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, they will receive a push notification that will contain information on what to do next.  The CHIBE team has been testing message strategies and among other things got the Philadelphia Eagles to record a public service announcement.

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Food Insecurity

Christina Roberto, PhD, and her PEACH team is altering a large randomized controlled trial they are conducting in a food pantry to involve contactless food delivery. This will help their research participants, the majority of whom are older adults, access food in a safe way and continue to participate in a study of online food ordering at the pantry.

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Behavioral Science Tips for Physical Distancing

Harsha Thirumurthy, PhD, and Alison Buttenheim, PhD, MBA, are working with ideas42, Indlela, and partners in South Africa to create policy briefs on interventions that low- and middle-income countries can use to curb COVID-19 transmission.

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Contact Tracing

Carolyn Cannuscio, ScD; Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD; David Asch, MD, MBA; Roy Rosin, MBA, and Mohan Balachandran, MA, MS, are leading the effort to develop contact tracing capacity at Penn/Penn Medicine that will complement the City’s efforts.

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Behavioral science can inform decisions, such as when it’s best to call contacts, what the most successful way to identify the contact tracing team is (e.g. as a health system or public health department), and what the best way to reach people is (e.g. text, call, email).

Related Coverage: Optimizing and Implementing Contact Tracing through Behavioral Economics


Policies for Scarce Critical Care Resources + CPR

Scott Halpern, MD, PhD, along with Doug White, MD, from the University of Pittsburgh, wrote and disseminated model hospital policies for (1) allocation of scarce critical care resources, and (2) offering CPR during the crisis.

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Both policies were adopted by hundreds of hospitals around the country, and the first was officially endorsed by many states. Locally, Dr. Halpern led the adoption, approval, and implementation of these policies across the six Penn Medicine hospitals. Dr. Halpern was also heavily involved in developing and disseminating an epidemic prediction model and countering the flawed notion that the US needed more ventilators to optimally combat the pandemic.

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Flattening the Curve Communication

In addition to teaching courses on Epidemiology and Epidemics, Emergencies, and Environmental Threats, social epidemiologist Carolyn Cannuscio, ScD, has been working to communicate with the press and the public about prevention strategies to flatten the curve.

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She has written to the Governor and local elected officials to advocate for prevention (including a letter on behalf of Kevin Mahoney to Governor Wolf to encourage the Stay at Home order, which was enacted for Philadelphia the next day). In addition, she has also been working with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to amplify prevention messages and develop new communication materials, with the help of dozens of Penn volunteers.


COVID-19 in the ER

Kit Delgado, MD, MS, is the site PI for a “multi-center registry of potential and confirmed COVID-19 patients presenting to US emergency department.”

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This national effort funded by an NHLBI supplement involving approximately 50 U.S. emergency departments will use electronic health record data and chart abstraction to develop a rich data repository to study acute care outcomes for patients with COVID-19. Penn investigators (including Dr. Delgado, Ari Friedman, Austin Kilaru, George Anesi, Scott Halpern, and others) will leverage the data to study predictors of adverse outcomes.


Tool for Predicting PPE Needs

Through an interdisciplinary effort involving faculty and students from the Perelman School of Medicine, Wharton, Computer Science, and the Penn Medicine Data Science team, Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, announced that they have launched a new publicly available tool for projecting PPE needs for health care workers.

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This is now being used by several of the hospitals in Penn’s system and is publicly available through the CHIME website. This tool provides a way for health care systems to estimate their needs in conjunction with projected numbers of hospitalization rates and to adjust expected utilization based on modifiable parameters related to PPE conservation policies. Find the publicly available tool here.

(Special thanks to: MD/MBA students Olivia Jew and Cody Cotner; Christian Terwiesch and John Johndrow from Wharton; Kristian Lum from Computer Science; Gary Weissman, Barry Fuchs, Ravi Parikh from Penn Medicine; April Cardone from HUP; Mike Draugelis, Thaibinh Luong, and Asaf Hanish from the Penn Data Science team; and Richard Eden)

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COVID-19 at Penn and Beyond

Katy Milkman, PhD, launched digital interventions for the entire Penn student body in partnership with Angela Duckworth, PhD, MA, MsC, and the Behavior Change for Good Initiative that were intended to help students cope with the crisis and thrive in a distance learning environment.

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Dr. Milkman also helped teach a new 2,000-person Wharton class about the economic, financial, and business implications of the coronavirus.

Further, Dr. Milkman is working on strategies for communicating about social distancing and handwashing in developing countries where COVID-19 is beginning to spread and in the United States. In addition, she has worked with a team of over a hundred leading behavioral scientists to provide guidance to health system leaders on how to promote social distancing in hospitals and how to encourage health care workers to safely and effectively preserve their limited supplies of personal protective equipment.

Related Media:

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COVID in India

Working with Marianne Bertrand, PhD, from Chicago Booth, Heather Schofield, PhD, has formed a collaboration with a large survey firm surveying 170,000 households across India each quarter.

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Currently, the goal of this collaboration is to generate policy relevant insights about the current impact of COVID-19 in India using data from the existing panel as well as new COVID-specific additions to the survey. This portion of the collaborations is yielding interesting preliminary insights as to the distribution of the economic impact of the virus and the associated economic lock-downs. Read about eight of their key findings in this Chicago Booth article, and read news coverage in Economic Times here.

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Socioeconomic Status + Domestic Violence

Atheendar Venkataramani, PhD, MD, has been taking care of patients with COVID-19 in his role as a hospitalist physician at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. He has also been working with two medical students and three National Clinician Scholar fellows on two distinct research projects examining the impacts of socioeconomic status on social distancing and the consequences of social distancing on domestic violence, respectively.

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He is working on research examining the impacts of COVID-19 on economic outcomes, and the role of public programs in mitigating these impacts.

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Family Visitation and End Of-Life Care

Katherine Courtright, MD, MSHP; Joanna Hart, MD, MSHP; and colleagues disseminated models for family visitation and communication about end-of-life care during this crisis. Read more in Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

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Cancer Care at Home

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn has moved to expand at home-cancer treatments. Justin Bekelman, MD, and his team are moving low-complexity infused and injectable cancer drugs to the home setting (read more on the Center for Health Care Innovation site).

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CHIBE staff helped develop Nourished, a meal delivery platform that enables hospital staff to safely and efficiently order affordable meals from a curated list of local restaurants via text message.

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Politics and COVID-19

With funding from LDI’s COVID-19 rapid-response mechanism, Dan Hopkins, PhD, is working on an online survey of 1,800 Pennsylvanians about political attitudes.

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In addition to documenting political and educational attainment differences in preferences for different COVID-19 response strategies, the team has also experimentally tested responses to different framing of government recommendations and mandates.

Related Publication:

Partisan Polarization and Resistance to Elite Messages: Results from a Survey Experiment on Social Distancing

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Risk Perceptions, and Behaviors

Karen Glanz, PhD, MD; and John Holmes, PhD, FACE, FACMI; are leading a study assessing individuals’ risk perceptions, knowledge, and behaviors related to COVID-19, response to the pandemic, and psychological impacts of quarantine and/or diagnosis of COVID-19.

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With funding from LDI, they are surveying 1,500+ adults across seven states. Topics include attitudes, behaviors, and risk perceptions; information sources and their perceived credibility; time perspective (future- vs present-oriented); depression symptoms; and individual vs. collective personality types. Measuring these and related factors are vital for creating public health policy moving forward and effectively communicating important information to the populace. There will be two follow-up surveys as well.

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Message Effects Lab

The Message Effects Lab, directed by Jessica Fishman, PhD, and which is supported by the Annenberg School for Communication and Penn Medicine, is changing behavior using advances in message effects and psychology, tailored to specific research needs. Working with Penn Medicine, for example, the lab has identified messages that have the strongest effects on reducing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and increasing vaccine motivation.

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Working with CHOP, the lab has also developed text messages that increased flu vaccination in a RCT. In addition, the team has developed messages that increase vaccine appointment adherence and reduce “no shows.”

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Penn OpenPass

CHIBE worked with the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation and numerous other groups at Penn to create PennOpen Pass, a daily symptom tracking and triage tool used to expedite access to testing and contact tracing for the more than 60,000 faculty, staff, students, and employees of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Medicine.


Uncertainty About Risk

Gretchen Chapman, PhD, Julie Downs, PhD, and Stephen Broomell, PhD, are working on an NSF-funded project on “How uncertainty about risk and conflicting messages affect preventive behaviors against COVID-19.”

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Their research team has been studying how people are thinking about the risks of COVID-19, and what they are doing to protect themselves and their community. This Carnegie Mellon University website has the full details of their project. “One key finding from that work is that when people are uncertain about the risk, they are more likely to rely on what other people are doing to determine what the right thing to do is. We also find that people’s main concerns about social distancing are that they are worried about getting by without a paycheck and how they will get food and meet other urgent needs,” they explain.

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Tackling HIV in South Africa

Harsha Thirumurthy, PhD, and Alison Buttenheim, PhD, MBA, and their Indlela team are working to ensure that COVID-19 does not disrupt efforts to address other health challenges in lower middle income countries, such as HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

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Social Needs Response Team

Jaya Aysola, MD, DTMH, MPH, created a team that meets critical educational and service missions during this time. Licensed social workers work in virtual teams with third- and fourth-year medical students.

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They assist patients and nonpatients experiencing distress, safety concerns, or have social support needs such as food, housing, transportation, medications, loss of health insurance or unemployment benefits.

Dr. Aysola also developed COVID-19-related Epic SmartPhrases to both screen for and further evaluate social needs.

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Partnerships for Food Delivery

Jaya Aysola, MD, DTMH, MPH, developed an initiative that meets a critical need while empowering small businesses, by hiring catering vendors utilized by Penn Medicine prior to the crisis to assist food banks with home deliveries to vulnerable patients.

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Stigma and Discrimination

Fear and anxiety during the pandemic may lead to stigma toward certain populations or nationalities. In response, Jaya Aysola, MD, DTMH, MPH, created the Penn Medicine Job Aid in an effort to reduce stigma and discrimination related to COVID-19.

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This guidance recommends using official terms (such as “the novel coronavirus” and “COVID-19”) and people-first language (“people who have COVID-19” instead of cases or victims).


Pregnancy Watch

The Way to Health team created Pregnancy Watch, which is similar to COVID-19 Watch but dedicated to soon-to-be-mothers. This service helps monitor pregnant patients for symptoms.

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Automated texts are sent twice a day, and patients can be connected to OB/GYN providers if their symptoms worsen. Learn more about Way to Health here.

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Political Partisanship

Harsha Thirumurthy, PhD, and colleagues examined how political partisanship could influence people’s responsiveness to political leaders and their recommendations regarding COVID-19 prevention. Find their paper, “Political Partisanship Influences Behavioral Responses to Governors’ Recommendations for COVID-19 Prevention in the United States,” in SSRN.

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International Panel

Jalpa Doshi, PhD, moderated a panel as part of the International Society of Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research 2020 International Meeting’s Preconference Plenary Session. Her panel was called “COVID-19: A Global Call to Action for Health Economics & Outcomes Researchers.”

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It featured Nuria Oliver, PhD, Commissioner for AI and COVID-19 at the Valencian Government; Leo Yee-Sin, MPH, FRCP, FAMS, Executive Director, National Centre for Infectious Diseases, Singapore; John H. Powers, MD, FACP, FIDSA, Professor of Clinical Medicine, George Washington University School of Medicine; and Andrew H Briggs, MSc, DPhil, Professor of Health Economics, Department of Health Services Research & Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.