AI can help predict where and when COVID-19 will literally go viral next. It can aid in diagnosing the disease. And it can assist in optimizing resource allocation.
On those strengths and others, healthcare leaders would do well to leverage AI to combat COVID-19 in five key areas, the research and advisory firm Gartner suggests.
The areas the consultancy sees as likely to yield the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to making better decisions on how to deal with the pandemic are:
1. Early detection and epidemic analysis. Gartner names automated contact tracing, epidemic forecasting and monitoring the development of herd immunity as examples of this AI deployment category.
Erick Brethenoux, research vice president at Gartner, says such capabilities are “obviously highly relevant in the short term as society tries to ‘flatten the curve’ and minimize the burden on our healthcare systems—but they are also important in the long term if new, hopefully smaller, outbreaks reoccur.”
2. Containment. Lockdowns and similarly aggressive, one-size-fits-all measures carry enormous societal and economic costs, Gartner points out. For this reason, healthcare leaders should consult with experts in fields such as behavioral analytics to optimize containment efforts.
That particular field “derives new insights by accounting for the dynamics of human behavior, culture and individual thinking to answer questions around social distancing compliance or the emergence of unwanted group behaviors,” says Pieter den Hamer, a senior research director at the firm.
3. Triage and diagnosis. Gartner notes that AI-enabled self-triage has already found a foothold in healthcare, as evidenced by how telehealth services and virtual health assistants have increasingly helped individuals get pre-diagnosed and figure out what to do next.
“AI is known to improve the accuracy of certain diagnoses if augmented with human judgment, especially in more complex cases,” says den Hamer. “The fact that AI has a role to play in assessing patient risk and prognosis is not something to overlook, especially when there is a possible shortage of medical professionals.”
4. Healthcare operations. Predictive staffing can help healthcare CIOs and chief data officers (CDOs) better align the supply of materials, equipment and, not least, frontline healthcare workers with the demand for care as it ebbs and flows, Gartner suggests.
“Remote patient monitoring and alerting with the use of AI also allows patients to stay at home, lowers the burden on hospitals and enables a better understanding of how symptoms develop over time,” says den Hamer.
5. Vaccine research & development. Gartner cites AI graphs and natural language processing as aids for medical researchers needing to quickly find connections across massive stacks of published clinical trials.
“Healthcare CIOs and CDOs should explore every avenue of AI to fight COVID-19 using an ongoing and systematic process of AI application identification and prioritization,” says den Hamer.
At the same time, he adds, tech-savvy healthcare leaders “should not overestimate their ability to understand what makes sense from a public health and medical perspective.” Instead, they would be wise to “work with healthcare professionals to create and actively advertise an open marketplace that shares AI applications, models and data transparently.”