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COVID-19: ‘Our data is becoming more granular and in real-time’

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During the closing keynote of day 2 of the HIMSS & Health 2.0 Middle East Digital Event, prominent regional health leaders came together to reflect on the preparedness of health systems to fully optimise the value of data during the pandemic, in the session, ‘COVID-19: Making the Most of Data in Times of Health Crisis.’

The speakers were Alia Bahanshal, assistant research professor, director of the National Center for Data Analytics and AI, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), Prof Duncan Selbie, global and public health adviser, International Association of National Public Health Institutes, Mohammed Al-Abdulaali, assistant minister, Ministry of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Dr Fawaz Alharbi, assistant professor, Shaqra University.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for nations to rapidly gather real-time data, indicators and clinical evidence to optimise the sharing of healthcare resources. Governments have been required to build an accurate view of the outbreak, integrating frontline dashboard data from primary, secondary and social sectors with contact tracing and citizen sourced data in order to create predictions and build the most efficient ecosystem response.

The first pandemic in 5G

“Dr Abdulaali and I did a fireside chat earlier this week, and he talks about this being the first pandemic in the internet age and the first pandemic in 5G, which I think speaks to the whole point of this conference, which is in itself, an example of digital health,” noted Selbie. 

Talking about the positive aspects to come from the pandemic so far, Selbie said: “One of the silver linings from this awful time is our understanding of the centrality of data, the importance of standardisation and interoperability and sharing across nation-states.

“I’m incredibly proud of what the UK has done over the pandemic, but there’s no doubt at all that we weren’t ready for this. We have over 100 years, of expertise in public health surveillance systems with the granularity that will shine out to the world and I think internationally will be recognised.”

Selbie also spoke about the UK’s preparedness for the pandemic and how the nation had to rapidly and intelligently collate and utilise data: “In the very early days we were relying on the syndromic surveillance. We have an NHS, which is an end-to-end service, we have a unique personal identifier for every citizen and we had all the machinery and infrastructure that you would expect – but what we didn’t have was the readiness for this.

“Back in January, we weren’t aware of the asymptomatic nature of the virus. We weren’t aware of its impact, or possible impact on children, for example, and as we have been learning, we’ve been adapting.

“Our data is becoming more granular and in real-time. We have a level of granularity that simply was inconceivable, unimaginable at this time last year,” stated Selbie. 

Scientists validating the data

Selbie also explained why scientists, doctors and public health professionals should be the forefront of presenting data during the infodemic climate we find ourselves in: “It’s very important that we have scientists and epidemiologists, public health experts presenting the data, rather than politicians.

“Scientists and doctors and public health professionals are more likely to inspire confidence,” added Selbie.

AI and data analytics in the Kingdom

Highlighting the data analytics features adopted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the pandemic, Bahanshal explained: “We developed chatbots that can help us alleviate the load on the Ministry of Health medical services. We created chatbots that are based on AI that can handle about 360,000 enquiries per day.

“It can use natural language processing that can distinguish the difference between accents and can handle different contexts of concerns. We can find around 1,000 COVID-19 predictions, then piece these questions together to change the chatbot and integrate with the Arabic language chatbot.”

Al-Abdulaali added: “It’s not only using these apps and solutions to help managing the availability of data or availability of service for the patients, but also then improving the quality of the medical and the clinical practice which are going to be provided.”

Find out more about the HIMSS & Health 2.0 Middle East Digital Event and learn more about the latest news and developments from the event here.

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