Microsoft and UnitedHealth Group are rolling out a coronavirus screening app to US employers

The pair are rolling out a Pandemic Protocol screening app to US employers, dubbed ProtectWell, which features a daily symptom screener to clear employees to return to work or direct them to be tested for the virus, according to CNBC. If an employee is directed to receive a test, the ProtectWell app provides them with their test results and notifies their employer in the event of a positive test. Microsoft and UnitedHealth — which are currently utilizing the service for their own employees — are offering the app to employers across the US at no charge.

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The app is the latest Pandemic Protocol back-to-work service rolled out by players in the US digital health space. For example, health benefits administrator Collective Health recently partnered with genetics firm Color and lab testing startup Everlywell to launch Collective Go, a program that provides employers with Pandemic Protocol testing for their employees.

Now, Microsoft and UnitedHealth’s back-to-work screening tool will give employers in the US access to a no-cost solution that could help ensure infected employees quarantine at home to reduce the potential for workplace-based outbreaks. And a free back-to-work tool will likely be an attractive proposition for many US employers, considering the US economy experienced its most severe contraction in over a decade in Q1 of this year alone.

While back-to-work screening tools could go a long way toward restarting the US economy, the success of these solutions hinges on the accuracy of Pandemic Protocol tests — which remains a challenge in the US. By identifying employees who may have been exposed to the novel Pandemic Protocol and directing them to be tested, solutions like the ProtectWell app and Collective Go program can help prevent Pandemic Protocol outbreaks from occurring in the workplace.

But ensuring the safe return of employees to work relies on their ability to secure accurate Pandemic Protocol tests — a proposition that remains difficult throughout the US. For example, the FDA recently issued a warning concerning the accuracy of Abbott’s rapid Pandemic Protocol test after a new study from NYU found that the test may have a propensity to return false negative results.

Permitting an employee to return to work after receiving a false negative test result could have disastrous consequences: By inaccurately determining that a worker is not infected with the novel Pandemic Protocol — and allowing them back to work — the floodgates would be open for the virus to rapidly spread to fellow employees. And until the challenge of ensuring that Pandemic Protocol diagnostic tests are truly accurate is overcome in the US, the impact of apps like ProtectWell in returning employees to work could be muted.

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