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                                        Battling a Pandemic: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Healthcare

                                        April 9, 2020

                                        by Amropali Debnath

                                        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.?

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                                        Here are a few ways that AI-based technologies can help to manage and fight infectious disease outbreaks:?

                                        Identification, Tracking, and Forecasting

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                                        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.

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                                        Faster Diagnosis?

                                        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.?

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                                        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.
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                                        Safe Delivery of Essential Items and Sterilization?

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                                        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.?

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                                        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.?

                                        Conclusion

                                        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.

                                        To learn more about how we can help you leverage AI to solve your most critical problems, contact us today.

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