UK switches to decentralised COVID-19 contact-tracing app
The UK has become the latest country to switch from a centralised to a decentralised model for its contact tracing app.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, one set of tools increasingly mooted as offering a potential way out of lockdown are contact-tracing mobile apps.
Contact tracing itself is nothing new as a fundamental component of outbreak control, albeit usually done manually. This is achieved by researching the movements of a confirmed infected individual, and contacting all those who may have come into contact with her.
Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile phones, this process can now be automated. An application installed on the phone will track the user’s movements while Bluetooth signals emitted periodically will be able to determine the length of proximity to other people. The central idea is that an individual who contracts COVID-19 can mark themselves as such, which will then send out an alert to the phones of people who have been near the infected person for a certain period of time.
Ethical and security questions abound, however, particularly when it comes to data detailing people’s movements.
The large American tech companies such as Apple and Google favour a decentralised approach, which keeps data about user movements on an individual’s phone, thus maximising user privacy. Some nations, however, favour a centralised model whereby such data will be processed in a central server, potentially allowing for better data processing and the gleaning of insights about how the virus itself spreads.
The former model is gradually prevailing, with countries like the Republic of Ireland and Germany choosing it.
In the government’s press release, Matthew Gould, CEO, NHSX, siad: “Our response to this virus has and will continue to be as part of an international effort. That is why as part of a collaborative approach we have agreed to share our own innovative work on estimating distance between app users with Google and Apple, work that we hope will benefit others, while using their solution to address some of the specific technical challenges identified through our rigorous testing.”
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.”