Battling a Pandemic: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Healthcare
As the year 2020 appeared on the horizon, so did the beginnings of a pandemic of unprecedented proportions in the modern world. A cutting-edge AI-based disease surveillance platform put forth its first alert about the novel coronavirus global outbreak on December 31st, 2019, days earlier than any leading public health organizations in the world did. Leveraging natural language processing AI platforms such as these can process billions of data points in numerous languages pertaining to global travel networks, health reports, and so on to identify patterns and identify outbreaks quickly. When it comes to time-sensitive life-threatening conditions, such capabilities are invaluable.
Here are a few ways that AI-based technologies can help to manage and fight infectious disease outbreaks:
Identification, Tracking, and Forecasting
Leading studies estimate that 3/4th of new diseases that inflict humans stem from human-animal interactions, and involve viruses that can jump species, and experts believe that there are over 800K such unknown animal viruses around.
With globalization shrinking the world, and a considerable proportion of the human population traveling around the globe every day, the chances of a disease spreading from the epicenter throughout the world has grown exponentially. In the past decade itself, the world has seen several viral epidemics – MERS, SARS, Zika, H1N1, Ebola, and now COVID-19.
If leveraged well, AI and data science technologies can prove to be a game-changer in the battle against the spread of such diseases. Machine learning can not only be used to mine data from sources like social media and emergency medical services but can also be used to process big data on global travel and migration, weather conditions, wildlife, and cultural practices of various geographies. AI works faster than traditional reporting methods and can offer near real-time detection of the source of an atypical disease, and predict its trajectory. The resultant insights can help public health, and government officials globally make data-backed decisions through the evolution of a disease. Additionally, they also enable authorities to take proactive steps to prevent outbreaks, or at the least, prepare better to handle them, if they do occur.
Once an infection outbreak is identified, time becomes a precious resource. The ability to make prompt informed decisions is critical to minimizing the impact of the disease.
In addition to predicting the transmission trajectory of a disease, AI can help make a quicker diagnosis using machine-learning systems that continuously learn from their interactions with large data sets. For instance, data points from chest X-rays of COVID-19 patients can be used as input for AI models to assist medical professionals to diagnose faster.
New Treatment and Drug Discovery
In recent years, a growing number of medical researchers and experts have been turning to AI-driven drug discovery and the development of treatments. AI’s predictive capabilities paired with the right data and hardware (read supercomputers) can hasten the, otherwise complex and time-consuming, process tremendously, not to mention minimizing the trial and error phase, thereby saving precious time and resources.
Today, while scientists continue to work on creating vaccines and medications for COVID-19, medical professionals are taking cues from AI-based platforms proposing existing drugs disease based on the analysis of data from similar viral infections that are most likely to be effective in treating the disease.
Safe Delivery of Essential Items and Sterilization
At a time when person-to-person contact can cause further transmissions, one of the safest and fastest ways to deliver medical supplies, essential relief packages seem to be through drones and unmanned aerial vehicles between critical touchpoints. Additionally, robots can perform critical activities such as deep cleaning and sterilization without putting humans at risk of transmission.
Healthcare Administrative Tasks
In case of a fast-spreading infection or a pandemic, it is not just the clinical departments of healthcare systems that are stressed but also the administrative sections. AI platforms using blockchain technology can help process a massive number of claims faster, while also reducing the need for face-to-face interactions between patients and staff – a preferred state during an infectious disease outbreak.
Sharing Information & Spreading Awareness
Cognitive AI and intelligent chatbots can prove to be an indispensable workforce to help maintain reliable and essential communication channels while ensuring reduced costs and maximal availability. From sharing verified information, updates on the precautionary best practices, and the latest news on the developments around treatment, possibilities are boundless.
Preparing for Future Outbreaks
If history has shown us anything, it is that the threat from new and unknown viruses is imminent. Governments and global health organizations must take future-ready measures to help prevent or restrain such occurrences in the future. Policy-makers can leverage machine learning to simulate various outcomes to test and validate public health policies, initiatives, and response plans that have the highest likelihood of producing desired results.
With each passing day through this pandemic, increasing uses of AI technology are coming to the fore, and they are proving quite effective, considering the short planning and implementation time. Chinese authorities leveraged facial recognition cameras to track a potential positive patient who traveled in an affected area. Travelers flying into Hong Kong airport are allotted monitoring bracelets that alert the authorities of any breach in quarantine perimeters for the set period. In Thailand, AI-powered fever-detecting cameras are being used to screen travelers at the border. In China and Spain, the police are using drones for patrolling and for broadcasting audio messages to encourage people to stay home.
Faced with a crippling global crisis, the human race has done what it does best – innovate to troubleshoot. The result is a stream of ingenious technological innovations and applications that solve real-world issues.
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