Indian-origin researchers use apps, AI to help tackle coronavirus scare
Globally, health tech startups with medical chatbots are scrambling to update their algorithms to screen people and advise whether they should be evaluated for the novel coronavirus infection.
Apps powered by artificial intelligence are helping people screen themselves for the coronavirus, reducing the pressure on healthcare institutions and warning those at high risk of developing the infection across the world and also in India.
Two Indian-origin researchers, one in Australia and the other in the US, have led their teams to develop coronavirus-specific risk checker apps to counter the fear and confusion surrounding the infection, declared a pandemic by the WHO. While Abhi Bhatia, CEO and co-founder of Medius Health, an AI digital health company in Australia, launched his platform on March 4, Arni S R Srinivasa Rao from Augusta University in the US and his team will be doing so soon. The apps can be used to reach someone really early on, educate the public, deliver accurate information relevant to their symptoms and quell the fears of people.
Globally, health tech startups with medical chatbots are scrambling to update their algorithms to screen people and advise whether they should be evaluated for the infection.
But apps that enable at-home risk assessments in just about a minute are making an entry in India too. Individuals have to fill in a detailed questionnaire and AI then uses an algorithm to rapidly assess their information, send a risk assessment -- no risk, minimal risk, moderate or high risk -- and alert the nearest facility that a health check is likely needed.
The biggest problem with epidemics in general is the massive supply and demand mismatch, noted Bhatia. A huge demand for healthcare institutions and not enough to cater to it.
The inappropriate fear of the general public puts a lot of unnecessary burden on institutions that are already battling a crisis of inadequate healthcare and infrastructure, Bhatia told PTI. The Sydney-based Medius Health, he said, developed Quro -- a risk assessment tool for COVID-19, which has so far infected over 70 people in India.
"The do-it-yourself web app tool presents the user with questions related to prevalent symptoms and risk factors in accordance with WHO protocols and guidelines," Bhatia said over the phone. The tool helps to understand the patient's symptoms and determine the coronavirus risk, thereby educating the public on the virus and collecting data for healthcare officials for early intervention, he said.
"Given the size of the populace in India and the sudden outbreak of the coronavirus, we received more than 4,000 hits within 24 hours of rolling out the tool in India. The number is only increasing as people in India use Quro to assess their risk indicator out of concern for health and panic," Bhatia said. "Our AI system is also continuously collating this data to help the Health ministry understand the magnitude of fear amongst people as well as steer potential high risk cases towards early detection and timely medical intervention to prevent it from spreading further," he added.
There were 64,843 hits on the risk assessment app till Thursday. From India, there were 28,700 hits.
The number of risk assessments is growing at 32 per cent daily.
Rao, from the Augusta University, and his team said their app can help direct those deemed at risk to the nearest definitive testing facility.
The soon-to-be-launched app will help provide local and public health officials with real time information on emerging demographics of those most at risk for the infection so they can better target prevention and treatment initiatives, according to a study published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.
"We wanted to help identify people who are at high risk for coronavirus, help expedite their access to screening and to medical care and reduce spread of this infectious disease," said Rao.
The app asks individuals where they live as well as other details like gender, age and race, in addition to recent contact with an individual known to have coronavirus.
It also asks users about areas they have travelled to, the researchers said.
The app enquires about common symptoms of infection and their duration, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sputum production, headache, diarrhoea and pneumonia.
The app will enable the collection of similar information for those who live with the individual but cannot fill out their own survey, said researchers working on the app.
According to Bhatia, the enormous smartphone penetration in India is a huge plus factor. His company is in the midst of deploying this platform with the government's support to reach millions of people in India to conduct this assessment early on.
"We are also in touch with the Ministry of Health, including senior officials, to bring this tool to a larger expanse. Given the current state of affairs in India over Covid-19, the health minister has shown keen interest," he said.
The novel coronavirus that first originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year has so far claimed over 4,200 lives and infected more than 117,330 people across 107 countries and territories.
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