Beacon @ CES: State of the Union

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This year’s State of the Union understandably focused on how technology is changing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The livestream started with Bloomberg’s Michelle Cortez interviewing Andrea Wainer of Abbot Laboratories about the development and subsequent rollout of COVID-19 tests within the US and worldwide.

It’s worth noting here for our UK readers that not all of this technology is readily available on our side of the pond just yet – but as CES is based in the US, this was a big area of focus both in this presentation and throughout the conference. 

How US Labs have responded to Covid-19

Having tracked the virus from its early stages; Abbot started to scale up their efforts in February 2020. When asking their Scientists what they needed, most issues were surrounding the materials and equipment needed rather than funding that was made readily available by the US Government. A test was created within 30 days and then had to allow for clinical utility testing and manufacturing to take place. 

As testing efforts continue to increase, the methods of testing expand. One of the latest developments is a test that works similarly to a pregnancy test. It is cheap, readily available and, most importantly, can be administered at home as the results are sent digitally. This could be a factor in preventing the spread of the disease, as  well as allowing mass testing quickly and cheaply.

Digital Health

David Rhew, the Chief Medical Officer at Microsoft went on to talk about how Microsoft technologies are being adapted to improve Digital Medicine. This included: optimising workflows surrounding manufacturing and distribution, and managing the flow of people getting immunised to create a safe, stress-free process.

When optimising their US workflows, Rhew cited Microsoft’s work with FedEx Surround, an operating system that allows them to track and monitor vaccine deliveries in real-time.

Managing the flow of people getting vaccinated is also a key factor in scaling-up and improving the experience of all those involved. This has many factors, for example:

  • Managing lines and flow
  • Keeping up with the demand
  • Block scheduling
  • Following up with a second dose.

There is almost certainly a role for technology to play in augmenting these systems. People want individualised recommendations on their best course of action. By implementing an AI Chatbot on the CDC website (amongst others), Microsoft have been able to give people pre-registration and pre-verification; a system which has since been rolled out to 25 different countries.

By building their US database, they have been able to prioritise at-risk individuals as well as supplement their efforts with campaigns helping people without access to tech. They can use data patterns to target interventions using thought leaders, influencers and clinicians to encourage mass immunisation and herd immunity across the States.

The State of the Union provided a peek behind the curtain into how science, medicine and technology are working together to surpass the bottleneck of demand. With the rollout of various vaccines it will be interesting to see how digital health evolves to meet the new challenges it faces.