Apps powered by artificial intelligence are helping people screen themselves for the novel coronavirus, reducing the pressure on healthcare institutions and warning those at high risk of developing the infection across the world and also in India.
Two Indian-origin researchers, one in Australia and the other in the US, have led their teams to develop Covid-19 specific risk checker apps to counter the fear and confusion surrounding the infection, declared a pandemic by the WHO.
While Abhi Bhatia, cofounder of Medius Health, an AI digital health company in Australia, launched his platform on March 4, Arni SR Srinivasa Rao from Augusta University in the US and his team will be doing so soon. The apps can be used to reach someone really early on, educate the public, deliver accurate information relevant to their symptoms and quell the fears of people.
Globally, health tech startups with medical chat bots are scrambling to update their algorithms to screen people and advise whether they should be evaluated for the infection. But apps that enable at-home risk assessments in just about a minute are making an entry in India too.
Individuals have to fill in a detailed questionnaire and AI then uses an algorithm to rapidly assess their information, send a risk assessment — no risk, minimal risk, moderate or high risk — and alert the nearest facility that a health check is likely needed. The biggest problem with epidemics in general is the massive supply and demand mismatch, noted Bhatia. A huge demand for healthcare institutions and not enough to cater to it. Medius Health, he said, developed Quro, a risk assessment tool for Covid-19, which has so far infected over 70 people in India.
“The do-ityourself web app tool presents the user with questions related to prevalent symptoms and risk factors in accordance with WHO protocols and guidelines,” Bhatia said over the phone. The tool helps to understand the patient’s symptoms and determine the coronavirus risk, thereby educating the public on the virus and collecting data for healthcare officials for early intervention, he said.
“Given the size of the populace in India and the sudden outbreak of the coronavirus, we received more than 4,000 hits within 24 hours of rolling out the tool in India,” Bhatia said. “Our AI system is also continuously collating this data to help the Health ministry understand the magnitude of fear amongst people as well as steer potential high risk cases towards early detection and timely medical intervention to prevent it from spreading further,” he added.
There were 64,843 hits on the risk assessment app till Thursday. From India, there were 28,700 hits. The number of risk assessments is growing at 32% daily.
Rao, from the Augusta University, and his team said their app can help direct those deemed at risk to the nearest definitive testing facility.
The soon-to-be-launched app will help provide local and public health officials with real time information on emerging demographics of those most at risk for the infection so they can better target prevention and treatment initiatives, according to a study published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.
“We wanted to help identify people who are at high risk for coronavirus, help expedite their access to screening and to medical care and reduce spread of this infectious disease,” said Rao.
The app asks individuals where they live as well as other details like gender, age and race, in addition to recent contact with an individual known to have coronavirus.
It also asks users about areas they have travelled to, the researchers said. The app enquires about common symptoms of infection and their duration, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sputum production, headache, diarrhoea and pneumonia.