Boston University students, faculty and staff must use the Healthway web portal for all actions related to COVID-19 this Fall, despite the University previously planning to develop an app for these purposes.
The decision to pivot away from creating an app came after BU Information Services and Technology advised that a web portal would be a better option, Catherine Klapperich, the director of COVID-19 testing at BU, wrote in an email.
“It was not possible to get an app approved in the app stores in time for launch and this was known a long time ago,” Klapperich wrote. “BU IT advised that a web portal was a better and more stable option in terms of development, privacy, and stability.”
The mobile app would have provided a platform for scheduling COVID-19 tests, receiving test results and attesting to symptoms. Additionally, the app would have notified individuals of their test date and time with a push notification prior to the appointment.
Tracy Schroeder, vice president of BU IS&T, wrote in an email through BU’s spokesperson Colin Riley that a mobile version of Healthway was being worked on. However, the team ultimately decided not to implement it.
“As we worked with that approach,” Schroeder wrote, “it became clear that adding a native mobile app to the COVID-19 web applications being released by our employee and student Electronic Medical Record system providers was going to be more complex for students to use and take too long to develop.”
The team decided to work directly with the web version and send the notification through emails and text messages instead, Schroeder wrote.
“We shifted to focus on implementation of the web applications directly,” Schroeder wrote. “We are providing all of the functionality that was envisioned to be provided within the mobile app, with the exception of push notifications.”
The sole difference between using the web and mobile version, Riley wrote, is the absence of push notifications. On the website, however, students can sign up for text alerts that will notify them of an appointment two hours before it is scheduled.
Klapperich wrote that the Healthway website provides the same benefits as the app would have: people can complete the attestation surveys, schedule appointments and show their badge — which will indicate their quarantine and test status — when necessary.
President Robert Brown had previously alluded to the app during an interview with The Daily Free Press in June.
“If everything works as envisioned, we’d be able to send the whole household an app message to tell them to go get tested,” Brown had said. “That would be the hope.”
Ian Chandler-Campbell, a PhD student in Applied Human Development, said he heard from a PhD student Q&A forum Tuesday that the app is no longer coming. Without this app, he said things may run less smoothly this Fall.
“I think it’s going to make it a lot harder for people to comply with the University’s distancing and symptom tracking guidelines,” Chandler-Campbell said, “if you always have to go on this website that doesn’t work super well on mobile.”
Daniel Leonard, a graduate teaching fellow in the English department, wrote in an email that he would prefer BU announce the cancellation of the mobile version.
“Students deserve to hear directly from BU administration that, now that the university has collected their nonrefundable housing deposits, the university is reneging on a promised safety measure,” Leonard wrote.
Leonard wrote that Healthway was described as “a health app and web portal,” citing a June BU Today article that outlined BU’s plan for the semester.
“This article,” Leonard wrote, “names the app as ‘part of [the] blueprint for [a] return to ‘vibrant’ BU community.’”
Leonard wrote that the BU community wants to be more informed of decisions made by administration.
“In order for students to make judicious choices as they continue to move onto campus and begin in-person classes,” Leonard wrote, “they need to know that this part of the blueprint has been discarded.”
Nina Hardy, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email that she has been using the Healthway web portal on her phone since she moved into BU.
“I’ve been able to make appointments, do my symptom surveys and get my results without any issues,” Hardy wrote. “However I think it would be easier to navigate as an app, particularly with showing the badge that has your status on it.”
Maybe I missed it, but how is contact tracing going to be done without the use of an app that monitors interactions via Bluetooth? Relying on self-reporting seems to me to be a flawed strategy, especially in classroom situations where you often don’t know the name of someone you are sitting near.