Watch CBS News

Harvard Medical School Students Staff Coronavirus Telephone Triage

BOSTON (CBS) - Beyond the front line, 12 hours a day, seven days a week, medical students are taking on a new role and answering the call for help.

"It's a way for us to relieve some of the pressure on our front line providers," said Harvard Medical School student Bruce Tiu.

Tiu is one of nearly 200 medical students staffing a telephone triage from home. With critical rotations on hold and college campuses closed, the students' job is to follow up with patients who test positive for the coronavirus. They've been at it since March and so far have made thousands of calls.

"I think students are a largely untapped resource. There's a lot of enthusiasm for trying to help," said Harvard Medical School student Shivani Shah.

Dr. Marya Cohen is a Mass General physician; she says the outreach is helping providers manage their caseload.

"As you can imagine with sometimes upwards of 200 people coming in a day, that list that can really balloon," said Dr. Cohen of the volume of patients visiting the MGH Respiratory Clinic in Chelsea.

Cohen says the students check in with COVID-19 patients several times during the first eight days after they've been diagnosed. Calls can range from 10 to 30 minutes. And in several cases the routine has led to life saving work.

"We have many people around day eight or so who are getting really sick. And the students will call us and say 'I think this person needs to go back in,'" Cohen said. "And indeed they are really sick and end up getting hospitalized."

So far, most of the outreach is happening in Chelsea. With nearly 2,000 cases, the working class community maintains the highest infection rate in the state. "People who feel less empowered and have already been seen by a doctor once and told they could stay home, they get sicker. And they don't necessarily know that means they should call back and come back," said Dr. Lisa Carr, a supervising physician.

The need is so great students are booked through the month of May. The group has expanded their footprint to help track patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Center and has even shared its strategy with the telemedicine program at the University of Virginia.

"This whole experience has really driven home for me the importance of social determinants of care," said Shah.

And that some of the best lessons in life, happen outside the classroom.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.