Tech plays big role in supporting global healthcare COVID-19 response

From vaccines to patient care, healthcare organizations are looking to cloud computing platforms like Amazon Web Services for innovative digital solutions

A Muslim pilgrim wearing a protective face mask has his temperature checked as he arrives in Mina during the annual Haj pilgrimage amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia July 29, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS

A Muslim pilgrim wearing a protective face mask has his temperature checked as he arrives in Mina during the annual Haj pilgrimage amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia July 29, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS

During an unprecedented global pandemic, cloud computing has played an important role in healthcare’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported more than 194 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 4 million deaths to date. Remarkably, the WHO also reports that close to 1.2bn vaccine doses have been administered and thankfully this number is rising every day.

The impact of COVID-19 on healthcare professionals began with a surge of new patients in need of urgent care. But new and unforeseen challenges arose as the crisis unfolded. For example, social distancing restrictions had to be navigated to keep everybody as safe as possible. The crisis led to the rapid proliferation of new research on vaccines and therapeutics, which needed to be analyzed and understood for life-saving value. There has also been a surge in misinformation, leading to new demands for accurate information from healthcare professionals.

These factors have squeezed the sector’s time, resources, and personnel on all sides, which has accelerated the demand for innovative digital solutions. Around the world, healthcare organizations, including the WHO, Imperial College London, Genomics England, Moderna, and University of California San Diego Health, are using Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud technology to help. Cloud computing supports these organizations by providing the technology needed to measure the spread of COVID-19, monitoring its impact, testing citizens, decoding immune system responses, developing therapeutics, distributing and managing vaccine rollouts, and many other critical functions.

Supporting researchers

Healthcare professionals have faced a tidal wave of information about the virus. In fact, more than 300,000 medical research articles were published on the topic of COVID-19 treatment between December 2019 and May 2020.

To tackle this “infodemic,” a team at Imperial College London has created a global knowledge platform called REaltime Data Analysis and Synthesis (REDASA). The platform combines artificial intelligence with human expertise to help the healthcare community quickly make sense of this tidal wave of information. It ultimately found better treatments for COVID-19 and saved clinicians tens of thousands of hours — time better spent on patient care and planning.

Vaccine development and rollout

Many of us will be focused on when we can receive our COVID-19 vaccinations and the cloud has proven to be an invaluable tool in supporting the development and rollout of these vaccines. Developing, managing, and distributing a vaccine that can fight a global pandemic requires innovation and modernized IT systems to ensure doses get to patients quickly and efficiently.

In vaccine development, Moderna’s scientists are using AWS to compress the time needed to advance drug candidates to clinical studies; increase the agility of its research, development, and manufacturing processes; and achieve results — such as personalized cancer vaccines — that would have been impossible even a few years ago.

Technology supporting patient care

In patient care, there has been a boom in outpatient video consultations as digital platforms make it easier, safer, quicker, and more convenient for patients to speak with practitioners.

In the UK for example, video consultation provider Attend Anywhere enabled tens of thousands of individuals to virtually see their clinicians in just a few months at the start of the crisis last year and many more on an ongoing basis since then. And in the UAE, Germany, and the UK, Huma’s Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) solution is helping to manage patients diagnosed with COVID-19 by tracking symptoms, monitoring vital signs, and any deterioration. It can also automatically flag high-risk patients.

This shift to digital platforms is expected to outlast the crisis and provide long-term benefits to patients and practitioners alike.

AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative

With participation from 35 global research institutions, startups, and businesses, last year AWS launched the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative (DDI). It was part of an initial commitment of $20m in computing credits and customized expertise to support customers working on rapid testing and accurate detection of COVID-19.

In the first phase of the initiative, AWS helped 87 organizations in 17 countries on a range of diagnostic projects, including molecular tests for antibodies, antigens, and nucleic acids, along with diagnostic imaging, wearables, and data analytics tools that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect the virus.

In the next phase, the DDI is broadening its scope to new areas including early disease detection to identify community outbreaks, prognosis to better understand disease trajectory, and public health genomics to bolster viral genome sequencing worldwide. Applications are open until the end of this year.

Beyond the crisis

Clearly, this is a pivotal moment where the healthcare industry is seeking opportunities to identify partnerships, work collaboratively, and accelerate digital innovation to address the challenges of the pandemic and the industry more broadly. It will use the findings to identify new ways to provide better care at scale and save more lives.

A global knowledge platform like REDASA at Imperial College London, for example, is immensely useful to understand and treat COVID-19 right now. But, more importantly, this technology and many others like it can be applied to other forms of disease, such as cancer treatment, with a wide-ranging legacy for healthcare as a whole.

Dr. James Kinross on the REDASA team explained why this kind of technology can be transformative: “We are never going back to pre-digital healthcare. Life has fundamentally changed in terms of how we communicate with patients, how we empower them with information to make better decisions, and how we use digital transformation to achieve that.

“We are still counting the human cost of this crisis. But as clinicians, we can see how the first truly global catastrophe in our modern world is accelerating advances in medicine and technology that could benefit people for many generations to come.”

The future of cloud computing in healthcare is incredibly exciting as the speed of innovation and adoption across healthcare will only accelerate as organizations and businesses demonstrate efficacy in real-world examples. Most importantly, these innovations can be seen and felt in patient care, and patient outcomes, around the world.

• Jens Dommel is Head of Healthcare for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Amazon Web Services (AWS)

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