Technology Helps Doctors, Health Industry Track Patients, Treatments

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to overwhelm doctors and hospitals throughout the country, medical technology firms and health centers are trying to gain “situational awareness” — giving doctors what they need to know about the sick patients filling emergency rooms.For doctors and staff, “it’s really hard to know what sorts of patients are coming,” said Warren Ratliff, the chief executive of MDmetrix, a software firm that provides analysis of health care inside hospitals.The staff “can see they’re backing up,” he said. But they have few tools to compare patients showing up today with those admitted yesterday, or to show what treatments might be working on certain groups of patients, he added.A frustrated doctorMDmetrix was created by a doctor frustrated that he couldn’t analyze data across patients. With electronic medical records, which have been in use in the U.S. for years, mostly for tracking and billing, physicians typically view one patient’s record at a time.   Enter medical technology firms like MDmetrix, which offer information dashboards and apps so that doctors and hospitals can look for trends and insights across patient outcomes. The technology pulls data from patients’ electronic medical records.As they deal with the patients in front of them, hospitals and doctors are struggling to answer what may seem like simple questions, Ratliff said. How many ventilators are being used? Is low oxygen an indicator of COVID-19? Has anyone followed up on patients who were tested and sent home?The demand for information extends to whether there are different treatments for different groups, he said.Different patients, different treatments“Is there a difference in the treatment between smokers or nonsmokers?” Ratliff said. “In a couple of years, an after-action report will come out. But that’s way too late if you’re fighting a battle right now.”With the push of a button, clinicians and hospital administrators get MDmetrix’s COVID-19 dashboard of charts and graphs that they can view to improve patient care. The information is a real-time snapshot of “whether treatment protocol A is working better than protocol B for any subset of patients,” Ratliff said.As for privacy concerns, data pulled from patient records is stripped of its identity and aggregated, complying with health care privacy laws, Ratliff said.MDmetrix is being used at the University of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center, both in Seattle. The company is providing its “COVID-19 Mission Control” software for free to hospitals and medical centers.Leveraging the electronic health recordA recent paper in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association outlined efforts at the University of California San Diego Health to quickly build new dashboards based on electronic health records to manage the growing crisis.  The authors conclusion: Electronic health records “should be leveraged to their full potential.”Over the past several years, there’s been an explosion of technology tools to analyze and aggregate data drawn from electronic health records, said Julia Adler-Milstein, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco. But the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing hospitals and companies to find ways – sometimes in just days – to analyze data and get critical information to decision-makers.“This has been a pressure test,” she said. “How can we get cuts of our data for the new disease?”Figuring out trends inside a hospital is also the work of TransformativeMed, an electronic record-keeping application that tracks a patient as he or she moves through the hospital. It is being used at the University of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center; MedStar Health in the Washington, D.C., area; and VCU Health Center in Richmond, Virginia.Tracking a patient — from symptoms, lab results and treatments — can help a hospital understand how a disease is progressing through a community, how effective treatments are and what isn’t working, said Dr. Rodrigo Martinez, chief clinical officer at TransformativeMed and an ear, nose and throat doctor.A generational opportunityThe battle against COVID-19 could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to greatly improve the health care system, he said. The social distancing requirements will boost telehealth, with patients and their health care providers likely to appreciate how much can be accomplished through video chat, he said. 3-D printing, which is being used to repair and create ventilators, will help the medical supply chain. And home lab tests will also likely grow.Add to the list companies such as TransformativeMed and MDmetrix, which are finding trends in patients’ electronic health records.“It’s not that we are creating new technologies,” Martinez said. “We’ve had technologies waiting in the wings, waiting for the opportunity to be applied.”

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Delivery Apps Trending as Americans Seek to Avoid Infection

With social distancing now the mantra to keep the coronavirus from spreading further, more American consumers are turning to online delivery apps to get their food and household products. Yet as VOA’s Mariama Diallo reports, not everyone can avoid going to stores and if you must go, experts advise people to take some basic precautions.

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Twitter Deletes Egypt, Saudi Accounts Over ‘Pro-Govt Direction’

Twitter said Thursday it has removed thousands of accounts in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Indonesia and Serbia that allegedly took direction from governments or pushed pro-government content.A network of accounts associated with Saudi Arabia and operating out of multiple countries including KSA, Egypt and UAE, were amplifying content praising Saudi leadership, and critical of Qatar and Turkish activity in Yemen. A total of 5,350 accounts were removed.— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) April 2, 2020″We removed 2,541 accounts in an Egypt-based network, known as the El Fagr network,” the San Francisco-based tech firm posted in a series of tweets.”The media group created inauthentic accounts to amplify messaging critical of Iran, Qatar and Turkey. Information we gained externally indicates it was taking direction from the Egyptian government.”El Fagr’s online managing editor Mina Salah vehemently pushed back.”Yes we are loyal to the state but we don’t receive instructions from anyone. We’re merely defending our country and its position is clear vis-a-vis Iran, Qatar and Turkey,” he told AFP.He said Twitter was effectively censoring the newspaper’s content and that journalists were banned from even creating new personal accounts.The platform also deleted 5,350 accounts from regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia for “amplifying content praising Saudi leadership, and critical of Qatar and Turkish activity in Yemen”.Rights groups have accused the conservative kingdom of spying on dissidents and critical online users on Twitter.The Saudi-linked accounts were run out of the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, where Twitter’s Middle East headquarters is based, as well as Egypt.Toward the end of last year, we identified clusters of accounts engaged in inauthentic coordinated activity which led to the removal of 8,558 accounts working to promote Serbia’s ruling party and its leader.— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) April 2, 2020After an internal investigation, Twitter also removed clusters of accounts in Honduras allegedly propagating pro-government content, in Serbia promoting the “ruling party and its leader” and Indonesian accounts pushing information targeting the West Papuan independence movement.Earlier this week, it removed two of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s tweets questioning quarantine measures aimed at containing the novel coronavirus on the grounds that they violated the social network’s rules.

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Google Boosts Support for Checking Coronavirus Facts 

Google on Thursday said it is pumping $6.5 million into fact-checkers and nonprofits as it ramps up its the battle against coronavirus misinformation.   Fact-checking organizations, which often operate on relatively small budgets, are seeing a surge in demand for their work as mistaken or maliciously false information about the pandemic spreads, according to Alexios Mantzarlis of the Google News Lab.   “Uncertainty and fear make us all more susceptible to inaccurate information, so we’re supporting fact-checkers as they address heightened demand for their work,” Mantzarlis said.   A Poynter Institute report last year on the state of fact-checking indicated that more than a fifth of fact-checking organizations operated with annual budgets of less than $20,000.   “We are supporting fact checking projects around the world with a concentration on parts hardest hit by the pandemic,” Mantzarlis told AFP.   “This can be a noticeable infusion of additional support at a time of stress.”   Google is also looking to use its products and “ecosystem” to bolster the battle against COVID-19 misinformation.   The Google News Initiative is increasing its support for nonprofit First Draft, which provides a resource hub, training and crisis simulations for journalists covering news during times of crisis, according to Mantzarlis.   Google is also supporting the creation of a public health resource database for reporters.   “We also want to do more to surface fact-checks that address potentially harmful health misinformation more prominently to our users,” Mantzarlis said.   “We’re experimenting with how to best include a dedicated fact-check section in the COVID-19 Google News experience.”   Google is conducting a test in India and Africa to explore how to use trends in what people are asking or searching for online to let fact-checkers know where a lack of reliable answers may invite misinformation.   “Unanswered user questions — such as ‘what temperature kills coronavirus?’ — can provide useful insights to fact-checkers and health authorities about content they may want to produce,” Mantzarlis said.   That test compliments an effort to train 1,000 journalists across India and Nigeria to spot health misinformation, according to the California-based internet titan.   “There is definitely an appetite for this stuff,” Mantzarlis said.   “We grasp for certainty, a glimmer of something we can do to protect ourselves and those we care about. It makes us more vulnerable to this kind of misinformation.”   Facebook has also supported fact-checking operations with AFP and other media companies, including Reuters and the Associated Press, under which content rated false is downgraded in news feeds so that fewer people see it. 

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California Energy Company Pivots to Refurbishing Ventilators 

A California hydrogen fuel cell company is now repairing and updating old ventilators, answering a challenge by the state to address a shortage of the life-saving equipment needed to help coronavirus patients breathe. Bloom Energy manufacturing director Joe Tavi told the Associated Press news agency state officials reached out to the Silicon Valley firm asking for its help in refurbishing old ventilators the state had on hand. Tavi said he downloaded a 300-page operating manual for the ventilators, and his co-workers developed a plan to fix the machines.  Since then, the company has fixed more than 400 ventilators and averages about 100 a day.  California Governor Gavin Newson says the state — with a population of about 40 million people — needs about 10,000 ventilators. Nationwide, the Society of Critical Care Medicine tells AP there could be a need for as many as 900,000 ventilators, while only about 200,000 are currently available. Other U.S. companies, such as garment and automobile manufacturers, have been shifting their focus to address the shortage of medical gear and protective equipment due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

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China’s Huawei Warns More US Pressure May Spur Retaliation

Huawei’s chairman warned Tuesday that more U.S. moves to increase pressure on the Chinese tech giant might trigger retaliation by Beijing that could damage its worldwide industry.  Huawei Technologies Ltd., which makes smartphones and network equipment, reported that its 2019 sales rose by double digits despite curbs imposed in May on its access to U.S. components and technology. But the chairman, Eric Xu, said 2020 will be its “most difficult year” as Huawei struggles with the sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.  Huawei is at the center of tensions with Washington over technology and possible spying that helped to spark Trump’s tariff war with China in 2018.Xu said he couldn’t confirm news reports President Donald Trump might try to extend controls to block access to foreign-made products that contain U.S. technology. Xu said Huawei can find other sources but warned more American action might trigger Chinese retaliation against American companies.”I think the Chinese government will not just stand by and watch Huawei be slaughtered,” Xu said at a news conference. He said U.S. pressure on foreign suppliers “will be destructive to the global technology ecosystem.”  “If the Chinese government followed through with countermeasures, the impact on the global industry would be astonishing,” Xu said. “It’s not only going to be one company, Huawei, that could be destroyed.”  Huawei, China’s first global tech brand, denies U.S. accusations the company is controlled by the ruling Communist Party or facilitates Chinese spying. The company says it is owned by the 104,572 members of its 194,000-member workforce who are Chinese citizens.Chinese officials say the Trump administration is abusing national security claims to restrain a rival to U.S. tech companies.  Last year’s sales rose 19.1% over 2018 to 858.8 billion yuan ($123 billion), in line with the previous year’s 19.5% gain, the company reported. Profit increased 5.6% to 62.7 billion yuan ($9 billion), decelerating from 2018’s 25% jump.  Huawei has had to spend heavily to replace American components in its products and find new suppliers after Trump approved the sanctions on May 16, Xu said.  The controls, if fully enforced, could cut off access to most U.S. components and technology. Washington has granted extensions for some products, but Huawei says it expects the barriers to be enforced.  The company, the world’s No. 2 smartphone brand behind Samsung, said 2019 handset sales rose 15% to 240 million units.  Xu said it was impossible to forecast this year’s handset sales until the spreading coronavirus pandemic is brought under control.Huawei phones can keep using Google’s popular Android operating system, but the American company is blocked from supplying music and other popular services for future models.  Huawei is creating its own services to replace Google and says its system had 400 million active users in 170 countries by the end of 2019. That requires Huawei to persuade developers to write applications for its new system, a challenge in an industry dominated by Android and Apple’s iOS-based applications.  Huawei hopes Google applications can run on the Chinese company’s system and that its apps can be distributed on the American company’s online store, Xu said.  Huawei also is, along with Sweden’s LM Ericsson and Nokia Corp. of Finland, one of the leading developers of fifth-generation, or 5G, technology. It is meant to expand networks to support self-driving cars, medical equipment and other futuristic applications, which makes the technology more intrusive and politically sensitive.  The Trump administration is lobbying European governments and other U.S. allies to avoid Huawei equipment as they prepare to upgrade to 5G. Australia, Taiwan and some other governments have imposed curbs on use of Huawei technology, but Germany and some other nations say the company will be allowed to bid on contracts.  The company has unveiled its own processor chips and smartphone operating system, which helps to reduce its vulnerability to American export controls. The company issued its first smartphone phone last year based on Huawei chips instead of U.S. technology.  Huawei also is embroiled in legal conflicts with Washington.  Its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is Ren’s daughter, is being held in Vancouver, Canada, for possible extradition to face U.S. charges related to accusations Huawei violated trade sanctions on Iran.  Separately, U.S. prosecutors have charged Huawei with theft of trade secrets, accusations the company denies.  The company, headquartered in the southern city of Shenzhen, also has filed lawsuits in American courts challenging government attempts to block phone carriers from purchasing its equipment.   

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Spain Postpones 5G Spectrum Auction Due To Coronavirus

Spain will delay a planned auction of 5G spectrum due to the coronavirus outbreak, the government said on Monday.
 
As part of a Europe-wide drive to speed up the roll out of fast Internet and broaden coverage, Spain had been due to free up space in the 700 MHz band of its network by switching from analog to digital terrestrial television by June 30.
 
One of the world’s worst national outbreaks of the virus, which had infected 85,915 people and killed 7,340 as of Monday, constitutes force majeure, making it impossible to stick to that deadline, the government said in a statement.
 
Madrid has told Brussels it will set a new deadline for the 700 MHz band depending on the eventual end-date for emergency measures including restrictions on people’s movements, it added.
 
Austria postponed a planned 5G auction last week, and the CEO of French group Iliad said one coming up in France would likely meet the same fate. 

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Spain Tries Tracking Coronavirus, Sparking Privacy Concerns

In Madrid only a few weeks ago, thousands of demonstrators took part in a women’s march, defiant or unaware of calls for social distancing to stop what then appeared to be the distant threat of coronavirus. Now, Spain is one of the biggest battlegrounds in the global war against the pandemic.Spain’s health system is stressed to the breaking point. Coronavirus information hotlines have been jammed by frightened people desperate for information.Madrid city leaders launched a web and mobile service modeled after ones that South Korea successfully used to track those infected.
 
“Our sole objective at this time is to save lives,” explains Isabel Diaz Ayuso, President of the Community of Madrid.The CoronaMadrid website and the App – is a public-private initiative that involves giving citizens’ personal information to the government and to various companies whose names are not disclosed.  In these times of fear, few ask questions. 
“We are immersed in a state of extreme urgency or extreme need, that is when at least we begin to understand these rather awkward actions of various public administrations when developing technological solutions,” says Enric Lujan, a politics professor at the  Universitat de Barcelona. “The application of the Community of Madrid does not specify data protection clauses, of transfers to third parties and, it seems, these data can be transferred to companies.”South Korea’s tracking measures helped the government there flatten the contagion curve – and other countries have followed.  Israel has approved the use of counterterrorism technology to track the virus, and Iran’s official coronavirus app was recently pulled by Google from its Play Store, amid privacy concerns.
 
“Medical data is classified as highly sensitive,” Lujan says.  “The transfer to third parties of medical data is being left in the background when what is prioritized is the fact of having a lower number of deaths.”The coronavirus pandemic has made many people across the world feel afraid, helpless, and desperate for solutions.  It has also raised new questions about how much of their personal freedom and privacy they are willing to sacrifice.     

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