A 2019 episode of Netflix’s “Explained” series predicted that the next pandemic would likely originate from animals, spread through air travel, and kill a huge part of the world’s population. It turns out they got almost everything right.

If it’s possible to predict pandemics, could the world have been better prepared for them? One hospital in Singapore believes tech will be key for this.

“Learning how to apply AI in predictive analytics on patient data during this crisis will prepare us to adapt quickly to the next pandemic,” says Dr Charlene Liew, Deputy Chief Medical Informatics Officer and Diagnostic Radiology Consultant at Changi General Hospital (CGH). She shares how the hospital is using tech to overcome the challenges of pandemic.

Telemedicine

The arrival of Covid-19 has significantly sped up the rate of digital adoption for hospitals. Innovations such as telemedicine are important to continue delivering non-emergency care to patients during the pandemic, Dr Liew says.

CGH has started to roll out self-service telehealth kiosks to assist its emergency department. These kiosks provide pre-consultation check-ups for patients. They are specially targeted to assist seniors, with tools to monitor chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

The kiosks were designed together with health professionals, senior citizens and patients in order to minimise the digital barrier for users, says Lydia Tan, CGH’s Director for Office of Innovation.

These forms of telecare will help hospitals deal with surges in patient numbers. Healthcare professionals will be able to quickly identify which patients may need urgent care.

Singapore’s National Healthcare Group Polyclinics has also started rolling out telehealth during the pandemic. It used analytics to identify patients who would be suitable for remote care, and taught them how to use Zoom, Dr Simon Lee, its Chief Operating Officer & Chief Clinical Informatics Officer told GovInsider.

Personalised treatment

CGH is working with Singapore’s healthtech agency, Integrated Health Information System (IHiS), to deliver personalised medical treatment in the future.

These treatments will rely on large pools of anonymised patient data – which includes imaging, medical history and genetic information, Dr Liew says. The data will be used to train AI and machine learning algorithms, in order to accurately suggest personalised treatment plans for patients.

The hospital is also researching the use of extended reality and AI to educate patients, Tan says. Extended reality makes use of immersive tech to bring users into a virtual experience.

Using AI to manage large patient volumes

CGH is gearing up for the next public health crisis with AI. “Our current AI models can be easily applied to the next cohort of data should another wave of mutations arise, or during the next pandemic,” she adds.

It is important for hospitals to be able to quickly identify the severity of Covid-19 symptoms. CGH has worked together with IHiS to co-develop an AI tool to predict the severity of pneumonia based on chest X-Ray scans.

The algorithm was trained on over 3000 chest X-Ray images and 200,000 data points, such as lab results and patient records. This allowed healthcare professionals to swiftly assess which patients would need critical care “almost instantaneously”, Dr Liew says. Doctors will also be alerted before a patient’s condition starts to deteriorate.

This will help hospitals with limited medical supplies prioritise their healthcare resources for high-risk patients, she says. Currently, the team is working with commercial partners to distribute the tool globally, Dr Liew adds.

In their early response to the pandemic, CGH also built an algorithm to integrate hospital data for contact tracing. This tool could track a patient’s visit in detail – collecting information such as time spent in different locations during their visit, as well as the other people they came into contact with. The hospital managed to reduce more than half the time taken for contact tracing, says Dr Liew.

With telemedicine and AI, modern medicine will help hospitals reach more citizens and better prioritise resources. Come what may, our hospitals are determined to be prepared.

Image from Changi General Hospital.