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How Healthcare AI could have stopped COVID-19 before it began

Adnan Kayyali

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How Healthcare AI could have stopped COVID-19 before it began

AI can help make complex problems simple, and allow humans to do more meaningful and innovative work with the smart tools at their disposal across many industries

While AI has been used in healthcare for a while now and the advancements continue, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced researchers, startups and stakeholders to push boundaries and break new ground. Here are some areas in which the adoption of Healthcare AI makes work easier for doctors, improving the quality of life for patients, and advance healthcare overall:

Research and Development

The rapid analysis of large volumes of data is what healthcare AI is all about. Data collected from hospitals, wearables, and telemedicine can be used to curb the impact of viruses such as COVID-19.

One method used to achieve this involves deep learning. Using AI to identify possible treatments derived from previously recorded data narrows down and speeds up the diagnostic process and vaccine development.

Uncovering the history of the virus, detecting patterns in its behavior and commonalities in its transmission, as well as recording and categorizing diagnostics and safety methods from previous viruses is how progress is made. Healthcare AI helps doctors and researchers get a clearer picture of all this, and predictive algorithms can help prepare hospital healthcare workers and governments preemptively.

Detection and Diagnosis

From heat sensor cameras and contract tracing applications to wearables with symptom trackers, these tools pool data into a database for predictive and rapid warning, diagnosis, and detection.

AI powered systems for rapid or even early diagnosis use data from other patients to predict if someone is infected before symptoms show, which is far more effective, as transmission often occurs in the first few weeks of infection, before symptoms arise.

Contract tracing apps can be used to trace transmission chains, and predict which areas are most likely to be hit and can contribute to early warnings that help hospitals, populations and governments prepare their resources for a possible wave of infections.

The data gathered must be categorized and organized with absolute care for maximum accuracy, but the main benefit is to make as accurate a prediction as possible.

Resource allocation, logistics, and response

Systems, already spread thinly by the magnitude of the COVID-19 virus, can benefit greatly from healthcare AI in that resource allocation can be done with more clarity and accuracy than before. Where many hospitals were sporadically made to accommodate increasingly large numbers of patients, draining healthcare systems and facilities around the world, AI can help ease the tension.

All of the aforementioned tracing apps, early diagnosis, pattern recognition and the like can be used to warn communities of a possible wave about to strike, allowing for rapid allocation of resources, facilities and equipment, which, as we’ve learned in the first few months of the pandemic, would have made all the difference.

Junior social media strategist with a degree in media and communication. Technology enthusiast and free-lance writer. Favorite hobby: 3D modeling.

MedTech

Hospital Data System to Guide Precision Lockdowns

Adnan Kayyali

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Hospital Data System to guide precision lockdowns

Governments, leaders, and officials need a method to enable countries to keep on living with the virus for an extended period of time.

Many predict that nations will be moving in and out of lockdown until a vaccine is introduced, which may take many more months. In the meantime, communities will need clear guidelines to proceed with absolute caution.

A new method has been devised by researchers at Northwestern University and the University at Austin. The framework published by the two universities describe a hospital data system that helps deal with these situations in a more efficient, precise and timely way.

The paper released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), outlined the new hospital data system.

The system enables, policy makers, leaders and officials to have clear and early indication of when cases are about to rise above a certain threshold. With this data, they can make informed decisions on when to implement short-term lockdowns, and minimize economic and socioeconomic fallout, as well as easing burdens on the thinly spread healthcare systems.

 “Communities need to act long before hospital surges become dangerous. Hospital admissions data give an early indication of rapid pandemic growth, and tracking that data will ensure that hospitals maintain sufficient capacity,” said David Morton, research lead, professor and department chair at Northwestern University.

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MedTech

COVID-19 ‘mobile-lab’ treatment helps nursing homes

Adnan Kayyali

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COVID-19 ‘mobile-lab’ treatment helps nursing homes

The pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company is hard at work to deliver the second best thing to a vaccine we can hope for to nursing homes across the US. The company is going around elderly homes testing patients and staff for COVID-19, and administering their COVID-19 ‘mobile-lab’ treatment, as well as extracting antibodies from those who have already healed from the virus for further research.

The Company is doing this in a rather unconventional way. The company is bringing the lab to the nursing homes by driving around in RVs kitted out as makeshift testing labs.

Elder care facilities are linked to 40% of COVID-19 related deaths, and so it would make perfect sense to start using this temporary boost where people are most vulnerable.

The drug itself is made of natural antibodies that have been produced by the body after being exposed to the coronavirus. The antibodies for this particular drug are extracted from early survivors of the virus, and manufactured on a large scale. It does not give long-term protection, but researchers know that their COVID-19 ‘mobile-lab’ treatment does boost the body’s immune response for a time after injection.

“We wanted to see if we could help people in nursing homes because the disease has been so devastating,” said Chief Scientific Officer of Eli Lilly, Dr. Dan Skovronsky on CNBC’s “The Exchange.”

Antibodies have proven to be viable lifesaving treatments for diseases like Ebola in the past, and may prove so again until an actual vaccine hits the shelves. In the meantime, it could prove lifesaving for vulnerable people and those on the front lines of the pandemic like necessary workers and healthcare professionals.

The goal here is to make the treatment preventative. Currently it is only useful after a patient has taken ill with the virus. The next stage of testing involves 2,400 volunteers to see if the COVID-19 ‘mobile-lab’ treatment can be used as an auxiliary protective measure that is both more available and easier to produce than a vaccine currently.

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MedTech

Living with COVID-19: How long will this last?

Adnan Kayyali

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Living with COVID-19: How long will this last?

COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere for a while. Researchers warn that we may have to start getting used to living with COVID-19 well into 2021 and possibly 2022. A UN report as well as interviews with several university professors and researchers sheds some light onto our situation, and the way out.

Promising leads on vaccines are in the works and making progress. Some institutions and partnered efforts promise a protective vaccine by as early as September. The World Health organization projects that there will be around 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of next year. That is however, a long way away, and still leaves another 4 billion people living with COVID-19 as it rises and spreads.

A UN report measuring the effective response and coping mechanism of each country to the pandemic specifies that we are still in the early stages, and very much at risk.

Countries that are doing pretty well right now like South Korea, China, New Zealand and Taiwan, have been warned that they are still at risk of infection clusters popping up as seen in China a couple of months ago.

This leaves countries at risk of another wave, and a new list of economic disruptions and pitfalls. Despite this, countries need to find a way to cope and keep their economies flowing to some extent until a vaccine is made available, which may need longer than anticipated.

A study conducted by John Hopkins warns that to loosen social safety precautions may correlate with a spike in cases. Increasingly, we are relying on the individual’s assessment of risk and their precautions to determine the severity of the spike. The trouble is, countries will face challenges keeping cases down at this stage.

Researchers and professionals cast a somewhat bleak picture on the near future. Some estimate the death toll to reach up to a million by 2021, while others make even more concerning projections. “We’ll go well over a million,” says Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, Eric Topol. “I wouldn’t be surprised by 2022 if we go into a couple million or more, knowing that there are so many people out there who are vulnerable.”

The reason for this is because COVID-19 is a “stealthy” virus. Asymptomatic transmission comprises up to 30% of total infection cases, and so we are hunting a black cat at night when it comes to finding and isolating infected clusters.

A new approach to the virus is advised. One that requires individuals to take absolute responsibility over the risks and precautions they are taking. People may have to accept living with COVID-19, and the new changes in their life, and everyone needs to contend with the fact that it’s not over yet, and won’t be for a while longer.

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