Since COVID-19’s spread to Malaysia in 2020, medical doctor Dr. Chan Hai Feng and his team were constantly screening people at his clinic in Sabah along with employees at the workplace.
“We realised that this constant screening was taking up way too much of our staff’s time and was also exposing both the public and our staff to a lot of unnecessary risks during our screenings,” Dr. Chan told Vulcan Post. This, in turn, slowed down the treatment process for patients at the clinic as well.
Then came the endemic in 2021, where Malaysians returned to the workplace, students went back to school, and tourism sectors revived. To manage the risks of the virus’s spread, most premises began requiring visitors to present a negative result of self-tests done at home.
“Test kits, especially saliva kits that users buy from pharmacies are exactly the same as what the doctors are using in the clinic,” Dr. Chan said. However, self-tests may not be accurate as most are conducted privately and aren’t authenticated by licensed medical professionals.
If test kits find themselves in the hands of users with malicious intent, this also creates an opening for results to be manipulated.
Confident that he could make COVID-19 screening safer, easier, and more effective, Dr. Chan gathered a team and invested RM500,000 capital to launch CLEA in 2021.
The app is a virtual COVID-19 screening platform where users can verify and authenticate their self-tests by medically qualified doctors.
After signing up on CLEA with your IC and phone number, you’ll begin the Virtual COVID-19 Screening (VCS) which requires 1 credit (RM15 per credit) to use. The whole VCS process has 6 guided steps from the registration process to the submission of your results.
You’ll first be asked to choose which Rapid Test Kit (RTK) you’re using, between saliva, nasal, or whistle tests. CLEA has a partnership with Gmate, so purchases of its RTKs come with a complimentary VCS credit.
Otherwise, any Medical Device Authority (MDA) approved self-test kits from pharmacies work too.
Step 2 is preparation, where you’re prompted to prepare the self-test kit, a permanent marker pen, and to ensure that you have no less than 30% of battery left in your phone. This is because the whole test process may require up to 30 minutes, and cannot be interrupted at any time.
You’ll then verify your identity by taking a photo of both sides of your IC, along with a selfie.
A unique TAC code is then provided for you to write its number on the cassette you’re using. It’s important to ensure your handwriting is readable and that the ink of the pen is dark enough to be seen via your phone’s selfie camera during the recording.
You’ll then be guided on how to properly frame yourself and the test materials in the recording, which will begin after these instructions.
Upon starting, users must present the labelled cassette on camera. You are given 20 minutes to perform the test, from depositing saliva into the tube, shaking it, up until dropping the sample onto the cassette.
The recording automatically ends once 20 minutes have passed.
Most RTKs require a 15-minute wait time, and once the results appear, you’ll take a picture of it on CLEA’s app and submit it along with the video recording.
Though CLEA states that medical professionals will verify your submitted materials within 24 hours, I got mine within 90 minutes. Once verified, users will be issued certificates that can be used as entry passes to any premises that require screening test reports.
Curbing the concern of user error
Personally, I had my doubts about CLEA’s system, as I believed that self-tests were subject to user error. But after going through the whole process and understanding how CLEA’s unique TAC and QR codes verify results along with the timestamps of tests, I’ve been reassured.
Furthermore, if CLEA’s partnered professionals deem any part of your sample collection process inaccurate, your results may be marked as invalid and you’ll have to redo the test.
Of course, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests still remain the gold standard in diagnosing COVID-19 with an accuracy close to 100%. But Dr. Chan assured that home test kits have accuracy rates above 90% and have been evaluated by institutions like the Institute for Medical Research, Hospital Sungai Buloh, University of Malaya, etc.
He also stated that the most vital part of performing a screening is the sample extraction. “Not everyone knows how to collect a proper sample, be it saliva or nasal, so this is where CLEA plays a role in ensuring the users are collecting the correct samples by our panel clinics,” he shared.
With the correct sample collection method, the whole screening process performed by users themselves can be as accurate as performed by a medical professional.
Designed with doctors and businesses in mind
When determining the cost of the credits needed for the app’s VCS, CLEA’s team prioritised making it as affordable as it can be for users, while finding a way to compensate doctors’ time.
“This is no easy task but we eventually set a price around a Starbucks Grande Caramel Frappuccino Blended Coffee,” Dr. Chan said. “And we managed to figure out a sweet spot for all our panels as well.”
In addition, CLEA’s platform is also equipped with a HR management portal, allowing employers to regularly monitor their employee’s last screen date and COVID-19 status.
This will allow companies to pre-plan their workforce needs with data from the management portal, thus reducing unnecessary disruptions in workplace operations due to an outbreak. In turn, employees are able to start work immediately upon arrival without having to go through the hassle of multiple manual on-site screenings.
The service can also be extended to high-traffic premises that are vulnerable to the spread of forming COVID-19 clusters such as schools, events, hotels, and malls, to name a few.
In terms of the fees for business packages, CLEA determines them on a case-by-case basis, depending on the frequency of the screening and volume.
As of now, CLEA has more than 54,000 app downloads, 50,000 active users, and 30 corporate clients which include Jaya Grocer, Healthland Wellness, and Uncle Chang Sipadan Resort.
Because CLEA is an endemic-related service, Dr. Chan’s focus is to scale and introduce this platform to more users or even countries who are in need of it.
Although using CLEA requires extra fees and a longer period of time before confirming RTK results, some may deem the costs worth it. This is so they can ensure that the quality and results of the test are legit and accurate.
After all, not everyone holds the same ethics and civic awareness to perform a new test for every new occasion they attend. Some might even recycle old test pictures, compromising the safety of everyone around them.
Thus, CLEA can be a valuable solution when it comes to minimising the risk of having such a person in a social circle, especially for businesses that cannot afford to have operations further disrupted by irresponsible individuals.
Featured Image Credit: Dr. Chan Hai Feng, founder and CEO of CLEA