How BayCare and Clearstep launched a COVID-19 screener in 9 days

Originally published in the MATTER blog. 
By Alejandra Fernandez, Marketing Associate, MATTER

On March 26, 2020 — less than two weeks after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and one week after California became the first state in the U.S. to tell residents to stay home — MATTER startup member Clearstep and MATTER partner BayCare launched an online COVID-19 symptom screener

The digital health startup and the Florida-based health system had connected earlier in 2020 at ACCESS, a MATTER program that helps industry partners connect to a curated group of startups through a series of one-on-one meetings. At the time, BayCare recognized that Clearstep’s digital triage and patient chat solution could improve how patients and providers navigate care and made plans to move forward together. 

Then, COVID-19 changed everything. 

In the wake of the pandemic, health systems began to focus on ways to keep patients out of hospitals who didn’t need to be there, but still provide guidance to the appropriate point of care for their needs. When BayCare was looking for a solution to help their patients navigate the questions brought up by COVID-19 — such as whether they should get tested, isolate themselves or go to the hospital — they remembered the startup they met through MATTER. 

Derived from CDC guidelines and feedback from expert clinicians, Clearstep’s online screening tool gives people who are concerned about the virus a clear next step for care. Their screening tool also goes a step further than other COVID-19 screeners by incorporating clinical content used in more than 90 percent of nurse call centers in the country. In doing so, the solution ensures that individuals who report symptoms, but are deemed COVID-19 risk negative, are also pointed to their best next step for care. 

To use the screening tool, users fill out a questionnaire and receive immediate triage results customized to connect them to the resources BayCare provides such as the emergency room, urgent care, or a telehealth visit through BayCare Anywhere. 

Since the COVID-19 screening tool launched just under a month ago, it has been used more than 70,000 times by BayCare patients to identify the best next steps for care for symptomatic and concerned individuals. 

“We saw incredible feedback from the users themselves almost immediately,” said Peter Garber, chief marketing and design officer at Clearstep. “In the past, the healthcare industry has lagged when it comes to user experience and design, so we knew we needed to nail it in a time when users are most concerned and fearful of what’s going on.” 

How were BayCare and Clearstep able to move so quickly to deliver one of the first digital health solutions for COVID-19? 

There are a few key ingredients. 

BayCare has aggressive goals when it comes to innovation. 

According to Craig Anderson — director of innovation at BayCare and co-founder of his own health tech company, HeadRehab LLC. — the health system has built a ‘buy, not build’ model. The innovation team’s mission is to find novel health tech solutions built by third party companies, identify how those solutions will benefit BayCare’s almost a million patients and nearly 6,000 providers, and work with them to quickly launch and scale solutions within the BayCare system. 

That can sometimes involve partnering with large tech organizations, but according to Craig, they often choose to partner with smaller, more agile startups like Clearstep. 

“Everything in innovation is about moving at speed.” said Craig, “A good idea now will, a year from now, probably still be a good idea, but won’t be considered innovative because by then it will be standard practice.” 

Craig’s team has nailed down a framework to work with startups like Clearstep — and to pivot quickly to solve the challenges COVID-19 presented to anxious customers. 

“Whenever we have a time sensitive issue, especially one that’s affecting many or all our population, the C-suite will look to the innovation team to find solutions we’re aware of that BayCare may not be currently using,” said Craig. “What can we do that’s new to approach this problem differently, quicker and drive better results? Whether it’s COVID-19 or the hurricane season, innovation is asked to weigh in.” 

BayCare found a complementary team in Clearstep. 

When health systems look to partner with a startup, they look for both a solution that they believe in and a team they want to work with. 

Clearstep checked both of those boxes for BayCare. 

Launching a product quickly during an evolving crisis is no easy task, but Clearstep stepped up to the challenge. By the time BayCare reached out to work together on a COVID-19 solution, the Clearstep team had already realized that they were uniquely equipped to develop a powerful and comprehensive screener. They immediately jumped on the opportunity to work with BayCare and, nine days after Craig reached out, launched a solution. 

“Staying on task towards fast development was a challenge,” said Bilal Naved, Clearstep’s chief operating officer. “We had to get adept at keeping every team aligned with one common vision and be willing to look at good ideas but say ‘ok, that’s part of v2 or v3.’” 

According to Craig, Clearstep’s focus and drive impressed the BayCare team. 

“Building something that a group of clinicians and senior leaders agree with quick enough and well enough that we have the confidence to launch it to our almost a million patients… that’s a rare combination to find,” said Craig. 

Since originally launching their screening tool, Clearstep and BayCare have improved and expanded their solution. They plan to continue to work together to solve the challenges COVID-19 presents, but also anticipate a longer partnership. 

“While we were in the right place at the right time for the COVID-19 screening…it’s not just about us providing one solution [for BayCare],” said Bilal. “It’s an iterative process with them. Not just the product, but the process so that Clearstep can act as an agile arm to BayCare.”


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