Can AI Protect Healthcare Providers From COVID-19?

By: Loren Elmann  |  April 24, 2020

By Loren Elmann, Staff Writer

With news of the coronavirus pandemic streaming on every channel, social media site, and group chat it is natural to focus on the death toll of patients in hospitals and neglect the gradual increase in healthcare workers’ contraction of the virus. As of right now, according to the CDC, more than 9,000 healthcare workers across the US have contracted COVID-19, and at least 27 have died. As an EMT, I know that the fear of contracting an illness from patients is something healthcare workers face on a daily basis. However, as more people need medical attention and with less space in our hospitals, we must momentarily divert our focus from the patient population to ensure that our healthcare providers are safe, giving us as much help as possible to fight the virus. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, is at the forefront of COVID-19 research and has that goal in mind. 

A team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has recently developed a device dubbed “Emerald” to monitor patients’ breathing, movements and sleep patterns remotely. This device eliminates the need for constant healthcare checkups, which allows healthcare workers to attend to those in serious condition. This will also decrease the risk of contracting the virus, as less exposure is taking place. This device has been deployed in over 200 hospitals for various uses over the past couple of months, but this week a clinical team in Boston reported the successful use of Emerald in the remote monitoring of coronavirus patients. This is a huge breakthrough because it can allow less severe patients to go home yet still remain under the supervision of healthcare providers.

How does this device work? It emits a wireless signal that reflects off of patients, and the Emerald system collects those reflections and uses Artificial Intelligence to analyze the patterns collected and gather a patient’s breathing rate, sleep patterns, and movement. Since Emerald is able to detect chest motion, it can tell when a patient is struggling to breathe and immediately notifies healthcare professionals that they are in need of care.

The CSAIL team has just implemented the use of Emerald at an assisted living facility to remotely monitor a COVID-19 patient. As the patient recovered, the Emerald device was able to detect that her breathing rate decreased from 23 to 18 breaths per minute, her sleep improved and she was walking more quickly around her apartment. 

Hospitals and health systems are already implementing AI-enabled at-home solutions. VentureBeat has written a recent article covering MIT’s Emerald device stating:

 “[…] Kentucky, Baptist Health is using […] an AI platform developed by Current Health to track about 20 COVID-19 patients. In Washington, Providence has deployed remote monitoring from Twistle to care for more than 1,000 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients. And this week, the LSU Healthcare Network in New York and New Orleans plans to begin leveraging AI to remotely monitor cardiac patients vulnerable to COVID-19. Elsewhere, predictive analytics platform CLEW is working with Sheba Medical Center and the Ichilov Hospital at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel to remotely diagnose the type of respiratory deterioration characteristic of COVID-19. And Orion Health released a remote monitoring platform that in the future will tap AI to allow providers to identify patients at risk of contracting COVID-19.” 

This is just the beginning of what I believe will be an AI revolution of our response to this crisis, as it poses a partial solution.

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