Ease on restrictions as data analysis ramps up

The NZ Ministry of Health had the pleasure to announce today that for the seventh day in a row, no new cases of COVID-19 had been detected in the country. There is no one in New Zealand receiving hospital-level care for COVID-19 and there is just one case still active. So successful has lockdown been for New Zealand in curtailing COVID (and romantic activity) that some are keen to try to stamp out other infections too.

The news comes as restrictions on people's activities are further eased in New Zealand and Australia, with Western Australia announcing today that it would implement a two square metre per person capacity rule for venues, replacing the previous four square metre rule in force elsewhere. It is to the absolute credit of healthcare authorities, healthcare workers and the governments of both countries that we have managed this pandemic so well.

It is not over yet of course which is why the Ministry of Health had gone ahead with the promotion of an app for Kiwi healthcare workers called Âwhina, which lets them filter COVID-19 content to find information of relevance to their role and their district health board region. The information is already publicly available on the ministry's website and from other sources but it's a good idea to have it all in one place and easily accessible on the go. It also provides access to clinical pathway and referral information portal HealthPathways to tailor it even more.

NZ's deputy director-general for data and digital Shayne Hunter said the app will initially be used for communicating information about COVID-19 to health workers but in the future, it can be used to share other information to help the health sector act more cohesively and collaboratively.

The rapid onset of the coronavirus and its novelty has meant that information about it has changed quickly and analysis of the large amounts of data being generated has been difficult. Just last week, Kiwi vendor Orion Health announced it had been give funding to build an algorithm hub to collect and distribute tools and resources for COVID-19 modelling, risk prediction and forecasting. And just a fortnight ago a consortium of research groups received funding from the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre to build a real-time clinical data and analytics platform (CDAP) that provides nationally available real-time analytics on the progression of COVID-19 to severe disease. Its developers say it will be able to rapidly extract and organise clinical data and help clinicians understand why some people have severe disease and which treatments result in the best outcomes.

The University of Queensland also announced recently that some of its researchers were leading a worldwide clinical study using AI to examine COVID-19 patient data from 300 intensive care units. Intensive care clinicians will be able to access real-time data on patients in ICU to help guide them on the best treatments.

While it's always healthy to be sceptical about AI and some of the people who tout it, there is also reason to be cautiously optimistic that AI will be able to help with this pandemic. We liked this story from the US publication MedCity News, which looks at several practical examples of AI and machine learning that have made their way into current practice and peer-reviewed journals. It has been said before that AI is not the panacea but it might be time that it proves its worth in a real-life emergency.

In other news this week, Australian software vendor Best Practice announced it was set to make its electronic prescribing functionality generally available very shortly. While some jurisdictions – notably Queensland and South Australia – still need to introduce new regulations to allow eScripts, the pressure will be on for them to do so, especially as pharmacy dispense system vendors roll out their capability. Fred IT was the first cab off the rank but we now hear that Minfos will make its eScript handling capabilities available for one of its big customers in TerryWhite Chemmart. eScripts are well on their way.

We also heard this week from the people behind the ManageMyHealth platform, which has been used for years by NZ general practices for their patient portals. Developed by parent company Medtech Global, the PMS market leader in NZ, ManageMyHealth is also available in Australia and has been used in an outpatients trial for chronic heart failure patients in Victoria. It has been put to use by Barts Health NHS Trust in London for follow up with patients after catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation in an implementation that includes the use of patient reported outcome measures (PROMs) in combination with remote vital signs monitoring and video conferencing.

This sort of data means clinicians can make decisions in real time without having to haul the patient back into hospital, something that patients overwhelmingly appreciate. The Barts trial also saw no-shows cut in half. Hopefully, after the pandemic, this will become the norm. Patients seem to be rating telehealth highly so it would be a shame to revert to business as usual.

That brings us to our poll question for the week: Will AI begin to show its worth in pandemic data analysis?

Last week, we asked: should coding with SNOMED be a requirement for continuing with MBS telehealth billing? This seemed like a pretty popular suggestion: 88 per cent said yes, 12 per cent said no.

Sign up to our weekend edition or Pulse+IT Chat to vote, or leave your thoughts below.

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