Coding for COVID-19: Opportunities for Software in Healthcare Industry

By Ryan Vice | Posted on April 6, 2020

Technology Trends

Software has already been in use in the healthcare industry to streamline a number of activities such as scheduling appointments, creating and managing treatment plans, monitoring vitals and dosage schedules, analyzing clinical data, managing and securing health information and many other administrative tasks involved in running a healthcare facility. Software is even used in medical equipment and wearable medical devices. 

Since we have already seen how introducing software in healthcare industry processes creates greater efficiency, reliability and productivity, how could software be an asset during health crises?

Healthcare in Crisis

During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve seen healthcare systems around the world pushed to their limit, and the crisis is projected to continue for many months to come. Hospitals from New York to Los Angeles are struggling to effectively address a surge in patients, and medical supplies are running low as governments bid against one another for much needed masks like the n95mask, gloves or gowns. These are realities faced all over the world. During a crisis such as this, it’s the healthcare industry that is on the frontlines, and we are all searching for ways to help them do their jobs to the best of their ability. 

At the core of the tech industry, we look for ways to enhance and automate the activities humans already do. Solving these questions of efficiency and management is never more important than during a crisis. If we invest in software in healthcare industry applications, we can provide those professionals on the frontlines with tools that can manage most arduous, time-consuming components of fighting a pandemic. 

By understanding where the healthcare ecosystem is enduring the most pressure now – and how IT and software development industries are stepping up to find solutions – we can make better investments in software for healthcare in the future and be better prepared. 

The Role of Software in Healthcare Industry

All around the world, we’re seeing glimpses of how technology can have a positive impact in fighting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. These are some of the ways software in healthcare industry operations can help doctors, patients, organizations and researchers:

Capacity Planning for Hospitals

Penn Medicine Predictive Healthcare created the open-source COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics (CHIME). It leverages the SIR model, epidemiological model which computes the theoretical number of people infected with a contagious illness over time in a closed population. The model involves coupled equations relating the number of susceptible people (S), the number of infected people (I) and the number of recovered people (R). 

CHIME allows hospital administrators to run a standard SIR model to project the number of new hospital admissions, thus helping them better plan for a potential surge in patients. Hospitals can gain a better understanding of their worst case and best case scenarios, when additional resources such as ICU beds and ventilators will be needed and how to improve mitigation strategies. 

Real-Time Pathogen Evolution

Nexstraain is an open-source project utilizing publicly available data to track the evolution of pathogens such as Ebola, Zika and COVID-19. It works by analyzing the natural accumulation of mutations a pathogen acquires as it spreads. Since different genomes typically pick up different mutations, mutations can be used as a marker of transmission in which closely related genomes indicate closely related infections. The goal is to create robust bioinformatic pipelines to synthesize data from across research groups that can inform public health interventions. Researchers using Nexstrain were able to establish that the virus was shared around Seattle as early as Jan. 20

Outbreak Detection

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can be huge assets in analyzing and making sense of the incredible amounts of data surrounding an outbreak of disease. BlueDot’s outbreak risk software is an excellent example of how these technologies can be applied to software in healthcare industry. By aggregating global data covering flight itineraries, mobile devices, health system capacity, animal and insect populations and more, BlueDot can detect outbreaks, quantify their risk and anticipate future impact. They actually notified clients of the coronavirus threat several days before both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued their public warnings. 

Having this kind of proactive warning system available to healthcare providers around the world will not only help preparedness efforts be more effective, but if we know about the spread of diseases, toxins and syndromes before they become a global crisis, we will be able to significantly reduce the impact of events such as COVID-19.

Diagnosis of Cases

Healthcare workers in many places have become overwhelmed as they deal with an influx of patients, the shortage of medical equipment and supplies and the risk of exposure to disease they face every day. An AI system able to take over the task of diagnosing potential cases of disease not only frees up nurses and doctors to perform more serious tasks, but it also protects our healthcare workers from unnecessary exposure. 

To that end, Delft Imaging launched CAD4COVID, an AI tool that analyzes X-ray images and helps triage COVID-19 cases. CAD4COVID will generate a score between 0 and 100 indicating the extent of COVID-19 related abnormalities in a patient’s lungs, display such lung abnormalities through a heatmap and quantify the percentage of the lung that is affected. The company made this technology available to the healthcare industry free of charge. 

Vaccine Development

AI technology and algorithms in accordance with the power of supercomputers can be used to gain a better understanding of a virus. With an advanced understanding of the proteins that make up a disease, the right application can even suggest existing drugs potentially capable of fighting it. The speed at which these systems can run calculations and model solutions is much faster than the human brain, or even standard computer processing, can find these solutions. Developing drugs is an infamously long process, so any techniques that could reduce the time between developing an effective compound and releasing it to market is beneficial to fighting an outbreak. 

Researchers used the IBM-built Summit, a supercomputer the size of two tennis courts, to screen through thousands of known compounds that could be effective in fighting the coronavirus. If researchers are able to find a compound that works against COVID-19, the drug development process will be much quicker due to all of these compounds in the database previously being approved for human consumption. In subsequent outbreaks, scientists can apply what has been gleaned from the process of conducting drug discovery simulations this time around to get a jump start on drug testing. 

Building Out Software in Healthcare Industry Processes

These are just a few of the incredible ways software and technology are being harnessed to address our current global health crisis. While they all focus on solving a different problem presenting itself amid our response to the coronavirus, each project has one thing in common: utilization of custom software development to bring these ideas to fruition. 

As a software development firm, Vice Software is familiar with the process of applying advanced technology to solve everyday problems. When our clients come to us with an opportunity to improve the functionality of a system, it’s our job to take our decades of experience and development expertise and transform their ideas into a software solution. As we all look for ways to improve our response to this global crisis – not just in healthcare, but in other fields as well – our team of developers is ready to build out the tools you need. Tell us about your project and how we can help today.

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