How technology is affecting the response to coronavirus
As the coronavirus epidemic teeters on the brink of being declared a pandemic, we take a look at the part technology is playing, good and bad.
The primary method of transmission has been the return of infected travelers from countries and areas where the virus is present. Consequently, the screening of passengers has become vitally important, with China in particular employing controversial so-called ‘temperature guns’ to check for fever, a key indicator of coronavirus.
Scientists and doctors, meanwhile, are racing to find a cure or treatment for those infected with the disease. An important tool, and one that prevents the infection of healthcare professionals, is telemedicine. That might involve the use of robots to deliver medicines or food, or remote diagnosis through videos and other sensors to limit exposure.
For those in isolation, meanwhile, the connectivity of modern technology offers a vital lifeline to the real world. In China, the epicentre of the outbreak and consequently the worst affected, messaging and social media apps like Weibo and WeChat have been sources of morale boosting viral videos and ideas about what to do whilst quarantined.
It’s not all sunshine and roses for technology’s role in the outbreak, however, with social media culpable for the spreading of malicious rumours about the virus’ origin, spread and potential cures. Those rumours have even been given a name by the WHO: an “infodemic”. Consequently, a number of social media giants have announced targeted programs to stop the misinformation, including Facebook, which has announced a ban on advertisements promising to cure the disease.
In less important but still noteworthy news, coronavirus itself is also having a knock on effect on tech companies’ bottom-line, chiefly due to the interruption of supply chains. Apple’s schedule for the manufacture of its latest iPhones has been affected, while Microsoft has been forced into issuing a financial warning.
As coronavirus continues to spread, with worrying further outbreaks across Europe, technology is sure to have a significant part to play in this ongoing drama.
Skin Analytics wins NHSX award for AI skin cancer tool
An artificial intelligence-driven tool that identifies skin cancers has received an award from NHSX, the NHS England and Department of Health and Social Care's initiative to bring technology into the UK's national health system.
NHSX has granted the Artificial Intelligence in Health and Care Award to DERM, an AI solution that can identify 11 types of skin lesion.
Developed by Skin Analytics, DERM analyses images of skin lesions using algorithms. Within primary care, Skin Analytics will be used as an additional tool to help doctors with their decision making.
In secondary care, it enables AI telehealth hubs to support dermatologists with triage, directing patients to the right next step. This will help speed up diagnosis, and patients with benign skin lesions can be identified earlier, redirecting them away from dermatology departments that are at full capacity due to the COVID-19 backlog.
Cancer Research has called the impact of the pandemic on cancer services "devastating", with a 42% drop in the number of people starting cancer treatment after screening.
DERM is already in use at University Hospitals Birmingham and Mid and South Essex Health & Care Partnership, where it has led to a significant reduction in unnecessary referrals to hospital.
Now NHSX have granted it the Phase 4 AI in Health and Care Award, making DERM available to clinicians across the country. Overall this award makes £140 million available over four years to accelerate the use of artificial intelligence technologies which meet the aims of the NHS Long Term Plan.
Dr Lucy Thomas, Consultant Dermatologist at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, said: “Skin Analytics’ receipt of this award is great news for the NHS and dermatology departments. It will allow us to gather real-world data to demonstrate the benefits of AI on patient pathways and workforce challenges.
"Like many services, dermatology has severe backlogs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This award couldn't have come at a better time to aid recovery and give us more time with the patients most in need of our help.”