The Role of IoT in Global Disease Prevention

April 1, 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 caught the world by surprise. In the future, IoT can help governments and health organizations stay one step ahead of disease outbreaks.

Artificial Intelligence Predicted the Spread of COVID-19

On January 9, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a public statement regarding a newly identified coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China. The organization was notified 10 days prior of pneumonia cases of unknown cause within the city, which prompted WHO to assess the situation.

The company that notified WHO was BlueDot, founded after the SARS outbreak. The 2003 outbreak spurred a desire for more timely disease information. The software’s artificial intelligence analyzes hundreds of data sources, including public health statements, news releases, airline ticket data, livestock health reports and population demographics. When the software sends an alert, a team of physicians and computer programmers review the findings for accuracy before forwarding to healthcare agencies and governments.

Beyond simply detecting outbreaks, the AI can predict how a disease may spread. It successfully predicted the cities COVID-19 would spread to based on travel data. The software also predicted the Ebola outbreak would leave West Africa in 2014 and the Zika virus’s spread to Florida in 2016.

Disease Tracking with Artificial Intelligence

Various AI programs are currently being used to track the spread of COVID-19 around the world using methods similar to BlueDot. AI is also being used to model prevention strategies to slow the spread of disease. Such efficient tracking and prevention modeling give governments and health officials real-time data to assist in making informed decisions on how to handle the spread.

AI can also identify drugs that COVID-19 might respond to by analyzing data of existing drugs and their effects on viral proteins. Researchers have also used AI to model new medicines to combat the virus.

Personal Health Tracking for Greater Data Mining

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Beijing’s subway stations have been using AI to detect fevers in travelers. Health officials are alerted of fevers so at-risk travelers can be evaluated. While these measures help detect undocumented cases of the virus, a connected healthcare network can go further.

Facial recognition along with fever detection could access the medical and travel history of a traveler, identifying any underlying health conditions or visits to known high-risk locations. Connected technologies can track where an individual is treated after fever detection, medications they are given and date released from treatment. Such detailed health intelligence across a city or country can give an overall picture of a disease among the general public, identify common travel areas where the disease may spread, treatments that were widely effective and provide a trail for identifying patient zero.

A connected healthcare system is one of the factors contributing to Taiwan’s effective strategy against COVID-19 – resulting in a limited number of cases despite their close contact with China. Thanks to connected technologies, Taiwan was able to identify and quarantine citizens who had recently traveled to China and were immediately alerted to individuals visiting their doctor for troublesome symptoms. These swift identification and quarantine measures helped Taiwan contain the disease and prevent its spread.

Personal tools like smart watches and smart thermometers can add to a connected healthcare system and aid in early detection. Changes in heart rate and sleep patterns as recorded by smartwatches can be early indicators of an illness, and alerts can be sent to an individual’s doctor for monitoring. Smart thermometers and connected apps can track a patient’s temperature, symptoms and medications. This gives healthcare providers a more accurate picture of a patient’s care, including at-home efforts. Individuals can track their symptoms before visiting the doctor, which can aid in early detection efforts and help combat diseases like the flu.

In the future, IoT technologies could help identify contagious diseases and stop or contain outbreaks before they spread.