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The Disruption Series: How AI Applies to Pandemic Healthcare

Smart tech for the "new normal"

This is the twelfth piece in the Lionbridge Disruption Series, a collection of commentary from life sciences experts on how the industry is changing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

While social circles joke about the flexibility of “pandemic time,” the coronavirus has had a very real impact on timelines in the life sciences world. We’ve witnessed shortened approval periods, delayed deadlines for regulation implementations, and acceleration in the adoption of new technologies. The attempts to slow, treat and prevent COVID-19 are turning predictions for the scientific and medical future into the realities of the present. Last year, the Lionbridge Life Sciences team hosted a panel discussion on the applications of artificial intelligence in pharma. AI certainly has a place in drug development and clinical trials, the latter of which is hard hit by travel restrictions and reluctant participants. And in the world of medical devices and wearables, AI has an established role. But how it can be used best during a global pandemic was only a hypothetical—until now.

How can AI improve prioritization?

One of the most obvious applications for AI in the healthcare space is the medical chatbot. In addition to freeing up healthcare providers by answering run-of-the-mill questions, the chatbot can save time and simplify patient lives as an “always on” feature of a medical app or service. If combined with an electronic health record, a chatbot may be able to determine if a patient is in especially high danger of COVID-19 complications and can route such patients to the top of the list.

How can medical providers reduce contact and disease transmission?

Besides the aforementioned triage application, which can reduce unnecessary contact between health professionals and patients, AI can also reduce contacts by performing basic activities. Tasks like taking a pulse or blood pressure can be “outsourced” to robots. (Even more complicated tasks, like surgeries, can already be robot-assisted.) AI can also spot infections before patients themselves bring them to the attention of their providers. Some hospitals are using AI-powered monitoring and scanning tools to detect and reroute patients with fevers or other potential COVID-19 symptoms.

What role does AI play in public health?

Local, regional and national governments are tracking the spread of cases in often futile attempts so contain outbreaks. Tracking adherence to social distancing rules and mask ordinances can help authorities spot likely pockets of new outbreaks. Even social media sites can turn to AI to halt misinformation that could sway consumers into a panic or a false sense of security.  

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Mark Aiello with April M. Crehan
Mark Aiello with April M. Crehan