Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP via Getty Images
On a sunny weekend in mid-March, just a few days before President Emmanuel Macron locked France out to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, Daphne Rousseau, 32, was outside Paris, lunch in the countryside with a group of friends.
“Everyone was talking about the coronavirus, then suddenly after lunch, I started to feel a little weird,” she said. “After a few hours, it was obvious that something was wrong because I had breathlessness for the first time in my life – which is very, very unusual to feel when you have never suffered from asthma or problems with your lungs. ”
That night, Rousseau had to go to bed to breathe.
“I felt very dizzy,” she says. “I felt my lungs were doing half the work – as if only half of what needed to get into my lungs was going through my lungs. “
Rousseau called the medical emergency line. It took 49 minutes to pass. The coronavirus wave was beginning to sweep over France. A doctor finally came to her apartment, examined her, and diagnosed COVID without doing a blood test.
“And then he left,” she says.
Before leaving, the doctor told Rousseau that she would receive an SMS and that she would be registered on a new platform on an application called Covidom, which would guide her through the coming days and weeks with the virus.
France has been one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus – with more than 166,000 cases of infection and 23,000 deaths – and Paris is a hot spot. But health officials have been able to prevent hospitals in the city from being completely submerged, in part thanks to the Covidom app, which has helped thousands of non-critical COVID-19 cases clear the virus from their homes.
The name Covidom is a mashup of “COVID” and “domicile”. It was developed in early March by the CHU de Paris, in collaboration with a technological start-up called Nouveal e-health.
“This application was developed in order to prevent people with non-critical cases from blocking paramedics, emergency rooms and hospitals,” said cardiologist Patrick Jourdain, who manages the platform supporting the application.
Jourdain says that thanks in part to the use of Covidom, doctors in Paris have so far been unable to choose who will get a respirator and who will not. The app is free for patients, who make up most of its 100,000 users (doctors are also included in this total). Health facilities are paying the price and some 350 are using it. The French government is expected to finance it.
Jourdain says that so far, only 300 application users have had to be hospitalized, and they have been identified before their condition becomes critical.
Every day, from his bed of illness, Rousseau answered the questions generated by the application – about his breathing, his heart rate, his temperature and a host of other health indicators.
“You turn into a little doctor every day,” she says. “And they were adding new questions because I think they were getting more information about the disease and its symptoms as they went along. “
In response, Covidom sent Rousseau color-coded messages. There were three levels of alerts, she said.
“Green, everything is fine,” she says. “Orange, moderate, you will be called by a doctor when someone is available within a few hours – and red, you will be called within eight minutes by the emergency line. “
Cardiologist Jourdain says that some 2,000 volunteers – mostly medical students and non-essential healthcare workers – have been trained to staff the Covidom platform and respond to patient calls.
They work in teams and four-story teams in an empty university building in Paris. In a video, Dr. Loic Josseran, a volunteer doctor for the platform, says that you don’t need to be physically present with a patient to tell when their condition is getting worse.
“The determining factor is how they breathe,” he says. When a phone call is deemed necessary by the application, “We hear immediately by phone those who find it difficult to speak and who are out of breath and who cough a lot. And we have a direct line to emergency services, so if a patient is in decline, we can help them right away. ”
Alexander Falzon, CEO of Nouveal e-health, explains that the application is adapted from a proven telemedicine platform called e-fitback that his company created in 2015 to follow patients recovering from surgery.
“We were contacted by the Parisian hospital system in early March and we were able to quickly adapt our existing platform for COVID,” he said.
The company declares that it complies with the strict European regulations on confidentiality and security set out in the data protection law known as the general data protection regulation. Covidom users accept these privacy conditions upon registration.
Use of Covidom has spread outside of Paris to other French regions, says Falzon, and officials and hospitals in half a dozen other countries have expressed interest, including in the United States .
Nouveal e-santé is currently working on an application that would help stop the spread of COVID-19 once the national lockdown has ended.
After his nearly three-week ordeal, Rousseau says she is feeling good now. She says that the coronavirus is a roller coaster both physically and psychologically, but with the Covidom app, she did not feel alone.
“I think the platform is helping to get through this very psychological side of the disease,” she says. “Which is basically you think you are good – and the next day, you are afraid that you will need to go to the hospital. I had this incredible surveillance but everything was virtual. Nobody touched me. I was talking to a camera – a doctor I’ve never seen in my life. And you go through illness like that. ”
Jourdain de Covidom says that the application has kept more than 50,000 COVID-19 patients in the Paris area at home and reduced the pressure on hospitals in the city.
“It has actually transformed people’s perception of when they should go to the emergency room,” he said. “They realize that they can stay at home safely. “