Technology Aids Fight Against COVID-19

As the COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the globe, companies are working hard to develop innovative solutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Chinese companies such as Alibaba have led the way using artificial intelligence, data science, and technology. Startups are teaming up with clinicians, engineers, and government entities to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As we continue our fight in the management and eventual eradication of the virus, here are nine innovative ways companies are helping on the front lines.

1. CT Scan with Artificial Intelligence

Using an algorithm trained with data and CT scans from more than 5,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, Alibaba’s AI system can diagnose COVID-19 in 20 seconds. According to Alibaba, this technology has proven to be over 90% accurate. The AI system is programmed to differentiate between COVID-19 pneumonia, common pneumonia, and other pulmonary diseases. The AI system also detects signs of improvement by examining the reduction of white mass in the lungs. Since March 2020, the system has analyzed more than 240,000 CT image volumes. Implemented in more than 160 public institutions in China, the system has helped diagnose over 30,000 cases as well as track treatment in previously confirmed cases. During the peak of the pandemic, there was a shortage of COVID tests in Japan. This technology was used along with PCR patients to screen for COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time we have seen artificial intelligence applied to radiology. However, in a global crisis, the use of technology like this can be accelerated. AI can be a valuable tool for the early diagnosis and triage of COVID-19 patients. Although this technology has clinical applications, it needs validation in other countries and other patient populations. The 96% accuracy is excellent, but 4 out of 100 patients still may not receive the correct diagnosis. That being said, the application can serve as an additional tool to a radiologist but cannot serve as a replacement for a radiologist’s assessment.

2. Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics is a form of AI used to predict future outcomes. BlueDot built a platform using artificial intelligence and big data that combines public health, medical expertise, and advanced data analytics to predict the track, and mitigate contagious outbreaks. This platform predicted the Zika virus six months before the outbreak. In December 2019, BlueDot alerted government clients about “unusual pneumonia” cases happening in Wuhan, China. After analyzing global airline ticketing data, the program correctly identified the next 20 cities that would be affected within seconds. The program processes data from around the world every 15 minutes, including official data from the CDC and WHO. It also combs through hundreds of thousands of media reports daily to find out more information on hot spots. BlueDot hopes that their technology will detect and track the onset of outbreaks more accurately and quickly in the future to come.

3. Robots Performing Medical Tasks

5G-powered cloud robots in Wuhan and Shanghai hospitals accomplish medical tasks, including taking patients’ temperatures, delivering meals and medications, and disinfecting their facilities. The robots use UVC lights that emit energy to shred the DNA and RNA of microorganisms on various surfaces. This technology reduces viral exposure to doctors and other members of the health care team through thorough disinfection and assisting patients remotely. In addition to helping doctors, the robots dispose of medical waste and gather contaminated bed sheets.

4. Fever Detection Cameras

To stop the spread of coronavirus in fast-paced and globally connected environments, Dermalog developed the first biometric border control system that integrates fever detection and identification of potentially infected travelers at border entrances. The biometric border control system in Don Mueang International Airport in Thailand can now capture travelers’ fingerprints, face, and body temperature. When a fever is detected, the officer sends the person forward for a health check. As states continue to reopen, this technology can be implemented in many institutions going forward (i.e., restaurants, workspaces, etc.) to monitor for signs and symptoms quickly.

5. Drones

Drones have been used in a variety of tasks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Medical delivery drones are being used in certain parts of the U.S. to distribute PPE and medical equipment to frontline health care workers treating coronavirus patients. Amid the pandemic, EagleHawk developed a new drone that cleans. The drone can spray disinfectants in large public areas such as stadiums and sports arenas, reducing the spread of infection to workers. Additionally, drones are employed to ensure that civilians follow social distancing measures. In the past few months, New York City deployed drones to encourage runners to keep their distance while running along the East River.

6. Telemedicine

Telemedicine is the use of remote and information technology to provide remote clinical care to patients. Fueled by fears of COVID-19, the use of telemedicine has surged over the past couple of months. Telehealth safely provides routine wellness checks, skincare consultations, nutrition counseling, mental health counseling, etc. without the risk of exposure. Telemedicine allows the doctor to have a complete view of the patient, observing their home structure and interactions that would otherwise be missed during an in-person appointment.

Exposure to telehealth at the beginning of a medical professional’s education can lead to a significant advantage in the upcoming years. These students can develop a different skill set that interlaces technology with medicine that their predecessors may not have had the ability to acquire.

7. 3D printing

Tons of products have been designed and 3D printed for the coronavirus pandemic. Seeing the dire need of PPE and other necessary medical equipment within hospitals, designers and students have used 3D printing to produce face shields, masks, ventilator components, hands-free door openers, and nasal swabs. Even though the mass production of these products is difficult, and the printing process is slow, such 3D printed products have helped hospital staff trying to make ends meet. Amidst the medical supply shortage that has had states battling over rapidly diminishing supplies, 3D printed elements have supplied short-term solutions.

8. Contact Tracing

Contact tracing has been implemented by the CDC to track and monitor the contacts of infected people. Infected individuals are interviewed by contact tracers to obtain information on individuals they may have unknowingly exposed to the virus. The goal of contact tracing is to slow the spread of infectious disease. Digital contact tracing tools have been set in place to allow electronic self-reporting and to identify community contacts unknown to the patient by using location data.

9. AI “Distance Assistants”

Amazon has introduced “distance assistants,” utilizing TV screens, depth sensors, and AI-enabled cameras to make sure employees are following safe distancing protocols. This feedback on movement is in real-time. If employees get closer than 6 feet, the circles displayed around their feet turn red, indicating them to move further apart. Such devices and technology are easily implemented in offices and other workplaces where there is a regular flow of foot traffic and person to person communication.

Amita Kundra, MD, is a cardiac anesthesiologist. This post appeared on KevinMD.

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