When racing a fast-spreading pandemic, quick diagnosis is critical. To combat Covid-19, telecommunications giant Huawei has found a way to bring the speed of 5G to the healthcare industry.

With the fast spread of the virus putting hospitals and labs under pressure, it’s time to use tech to keep up the pace. AI and 5G innovations can speed up diagnosis, improve efficiency and address on-the-ground communication challenges.

Just last week, Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society announced that the Siriraj Public hospital would join forces with Huawei on this. They’re the latest in a series of countries across ASEAN which have teamed up with the company to support essential services.

Real AI for real-life assistance

Imaging for a COVID-19 examination can take six hours to produce, and the overall process can take a week to deliver results, Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease programs at the Association of Public Health Laboratories told NPR. Even when test results arrive, there are issues with accuracy: COVID-19 sensitivity can be as low as 60-70 per cent, according to the Radiology journal.

But a turning point came this February when Huawei teamed up with Huazhong University of Science and Technology and Lanwon Technology Co. to develop and launch an AI-assisted medical image analysis service to screen potential sufferers.

Using technologies such as computer vision and a series of AI chips, it can produce results in as little as 25 seconds and rocket sensitivity for COVID-19 to 98 per cent. It can also help doctors more accurately distinguish between early, advanced, and severe stages, saving on crucial time and resources.

Breathing new life into global healthcare systems

It may seem a big jump from cellular networks to cell membranes, but medical technology is not new turf for Huawei. Last year at a university in Fujian, a robotics company implemented the world’s first remote operation, using Huawei 5G network technology.

To meet the current Coronavirus crisis, their sector expertise was steered by HY Medical, a Chinese enterprise that focuses on using medical imaging through artificial intelligence. It helps medical staff maximise the use of AI to improve CT images when scanning potential COVID-19 patients.

The Beijing based start-up has been working with HUAWEI CLOUD since the start of the year. The AI platform has been trained with images from over 4,000 confirmed COVID-19 patients, acting as a “super doctor”. Using machine learning patterns, it is able to quickly identify multiple types of lung marks and lesions with 96 per cent accuracy, and advises radiologists with probabilities to help them screen suspected cases.

Huawei has partnered with Malaysia’s Ministry of Health to deploy this platform at the Sungai Buloh Hospital. “In the age of technology, artificial intelligence is the next great frontier for healthcare services and HUAWEI CLOUD has kindly offered to equip us with an AI-assisted diagnostic tool for CT scans,” Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Adham bin Baba has said.

The technology “will help save lives, by greatly reducing the risk of infection and enabling medical personnel to perform their duties better and faster”, Dr Yun Sii Ing, Consultant Clinical Radiologist, Head of Department, Sungai Buloh Hospital added.

Both the virus and technology spread fast, and since then, hospitals in the UK, Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador and Bangladesh have all benefited from AI assisted diagnosis. It has already been implemented in over 300 Chinese hospitals.

Last month, Baguio General Hospital, one of five designated hospitals of the government’s Department of Health, officially launched HUAWEI CLOUD and hosted the first successful case of AI-based intelligent CT diagnosis in the Philippines.

Working with government

The need for protection extends past the healthcare system. In what has become an international emergency, governments too are turning to tech.

In Bangladesh, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Directorate General of Health and Services is using Huawei’s video conferencing systems to take social distancing to a whole new level, increasing capabilities for remote collaboration and reducing the risk of infection for the medical teams.

Thailand’s Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta has said that their government attaches “great importance to enhancing the performance of Thai medical staff by implementing integrated digital technologies using 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and cloud computing”. 5G in particular, he says, will “revolutionise the healthcare system in Thailand”.

It’s impossible to predict a new normal, though governments, economists, and social media pundits have all had a try. Whatever it may look like, in order to get there, governments and healthcare systems need to prescribe a change.

Tailoring AI-assisted technology to support hospitals can provide a clearer picture, not just of an organ for analysis, but also of the healthcare system of the future.