In South Africa, the demand for tele-medicine and remote healthcare solutions is huge, as it is crucial to get effective medical care into the country’s many remote regions. This has been a driving force behind the concept of placing artificial intelligence into wellness applications, as mobile apps are the type of technology that offers suitable accessibility for these areas.
It has not been a big leap from here to adapt this technology to assist industries and enterprises of all kinds as they seek to safely operate during the ongoing pandemic waves, suggests Quentin Daffarn, MD at UC Wireless. After all, one of the key challenges to effectively operating businesses safely has been the challenge of asymptomatic people unwittingly spreading the virus in the workplace. The latest variant is proving to be particularly challenging as this is spreading fast around the world in spite of vaccination status, because people are not experiencing symptoms.
“I have seen statistics that suggest that up to 29% of PCR tests provide false negatives, which means a person may think they are clear, when in fact they are still quite capable of infecting others unknowingly. However, there AI-based apps that are capable of detecting abnormal vital signs by transforming any suitable camera-equipped mobile device into a vital signs screening monitor that can indicate whether a person’s wellness may be affected, so this now set to change,” he says.
“Essentially, what the AI does is utilise the device’s camera light and processes this to extract vital sign indicators using a well-established process called photoplethysmography to detect abnormal vital signs such as increases in heart and/or respiratory rate or hypoxia, which is the desaturation of oxygen in the blood. These signs, along with temperature (which is captured by the application from integrated third-party AI measurements), can indicate the onset of wellness deterioration which provides the ability to refer people to medical professionals to further test for the presence of COVID-19 where applicable and therefore catch conditions as early as possible and prevent these employees from infecting others in the business unknowingly. The pandemic requires all measures to be deployed to minimise its impact on society and this solution complements the global vaccine efforts, while at the same time aiding the impacts from other conditions such as flu as well.
“As far as the pandemic goes, having a real-time wellness monitoring with secure reporting, especially for business, industry and governments is critical, since even with vaccinations now widely distributed, the impact of the virus – particularly with new variants arising – will still be with the world for a long time to come as is being reported now, similar to the annual flu virus strains, but COVID-19 is more aggressive and transmissible.
“An AI-based app of this nature should help businesses to address a number of the issues relating to lockdowns and full or partial business closures – helping to strike a balance between keeping industries and businesses open and staying ahead of an evolving disease.”
Moreover, he adds, an app of this nature will benefit businesses in ways beyond merely screening for wellness and early COVID-19 detection through referred PCR testing. There are, after all, many other diseases that also impact on day-to-day productivity, including flu, which still impacts thousands of sick days across the country. There are also those with more dangerous afflictions like cardiovascular disease and pulmonary embolisms, where early detection would be enormously beneficial.
“From our perspective, it is all about leveraging technology to help save lives and get the economy stable and growing again, safely. The important issue is that because the AI measures these vitals in real-time in a matter of seconds, is non-invasive and zero-touch, it is a simple matter to screen individuals every day when arriving for work or remotely using their own mobile devices.
“Rapid measurement of key vital signs and ensuring instant accessibility to the wellness indicative results means more rapid diagnosis and enables faster corrective and responsive action to be taken, should abnormal indications be observed,” states Daffarn.
What it boils down to, he continues, is that heart rate, oxygen saturation and breathing rate are all critical aspects of life – they are all crucial to determining health and wellness. This positions these AI-based apps perfectly to play a key role in the fight against COVID-19 and other diseases where screening and detection are needed.
“I think it is safe to say that although the various vaccines now being delivered give the world hope, it is also clear that we don’t have “the silver bullet” yet. Disease eradication is a long way off. This means that for the foreseeable future, which appears to be the next five to 10 years, I have heard experts report, we will still have to deal with many of the health risks created by the virus.
“Therefore, the best way to tackle this crisis is via a multi-pronged approach, and an AI-based screening of this sort offers not only another promising aid in the fight against COVID-19, but one which also delivers many other additional health benefits over and above combating the virus,” concludes Daffarn.