Artificial intelligence could soon detect pandemics – NZ Health IT

AI and precision health could soon help detect pandemic virus patterns like covid-19 very early, NZ Health IT (NZHIT) chief executive Scott Arrol says.  

A lot of cutting-edge data research is being carried out globally which will be a pointer to how we understand data analytic patterns and viruses before it is too late, he says. “We could have early warning signals in place to prevent another outbreak, or even a new major pandemic in future. “Applying data analytics can help with detection, contact tracing, infection groups, spread patterns and identifying high-risk patients. 

“The covid-19 pandemic illustrates how AI can do a world of good in the race to find a vaccine,” Arrol says.  

Orion Health, in partnership with Precision Driven Health, has developed a free national algorithm hub to support New Zealand’s pandemic response.  

The New Zealand Algorithm Hub supports operational and scenario modelling, risk prediction, forecasting and planning, as well as providing timely information dissemination to the government, healthcare organisations and professionals.  

Orion Health is working with health, research and data science communities to identify, prioritise and deploy the algorithms and models that have the highest value for New Zealand’s response to COVID-19.   

Dr Kevin Ross, director of research at Orion Health and chief executive of Precision Driven Health, says that the New Zealand Algorithm Hub will allow multiple parties to benefit from translating research into practice.  

“This solution will provide secure infrastructure, tooling and resources, and will ensure appropriate governance. For parties creating models, the Hub will provide a pathway to practice quickly and at scale,” Ross says.


Overseas, developments are unfolding fast. Singapore, which effectively contained the virus without widespread lockdowns, has used public cameras to trace the interaction patterns of the infected, and even introduced a crowd-sourced app for voluntary contact tracing.  

China leveraged robots in disinfection of public spaces. Remote tele-presence robots increasingly could be leveraged to bring virtual movement and comfort to people required to self-isolate, Arrol says. 

“Our readiness to try new technology to beat this virus is opening an opportunity window into how we might handle an AI-enabled future.  

“Countries around the world are using artificial intelligence to help slow the rise of coronavirus. Technology is being used to speed up the development of testing kits and treatments, to track the spread.  

“In South Korea, the government worked with the private sector to begin developing coronavirus testing kits soon after reports of a new virus began to emerge from China. 

“Koreans are providing mobile data, which can be used to generate maps, allowing authorities to understand how populations move and how the virus spreads. 

AI is there to augment the tools and knowledge we already have, Ross says.  

“We can use it to help directly with Covid-19, helping people to understand their symptoms and their prognosis, but it can also help indirectly by providing tools that help our mental health while in isolation, or helping people with chronic health conditions to stay healthy without burdening our health system. 

“A global pandemic gives us the opportunity to demonstrate safe and effective AI, respecting people's privacy while learning from patterns in the population,” Ross says.   

Arrol and Ross discussed the importance of AI in health in a recent podcast with the full interview available at Digital Health Insights with Scott Arrol. 

NZHIT is the key go-to health tech organisation representing the health IT industry sector and has many members with digital solutions that enable the delivery of virtual healthcare.  

For further information contact Scott Arrol on 021 414631



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