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.”

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.

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.

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. 

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.  

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.   

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. 

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.     

Coronavirus-Stricken Cities go Digital to Boost Solidarity, Wellbeing 

On the streets of Barcelona, a few lone shoppers and dog walkers, their faces obscured by masks, are the only signs of life in this once-vibrant city — but online it’s a different story.   In Spain, as in the rest of the world, increasing numbers of people are going digital to keep community spirits up and avoid feelings of isolation during the coronavirus crisis, which has infected about 725,000 people and killed more than 34,000 worldwide.   Since Spain’s population of 47 million went into lockdown on March 14, there has been a flourishing of virtual parties, online classes and remote cultural events as people rush to find new ways to stay connected during the pandemic.   On any given day, Barcelona residents can look at a list called #ElBarriDesdeTuCasa (“The Neighbourhood On Your Doorstep”), posted on the online community platform Nextdoor, and find five or six events in their neighborhood alone.   These kinds of online activities are useful for “keeping people motivated and giving them a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” Joana Caminal, head of community at Nextdoor Spain, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.   They are a good way of “getting people to interact more  at such a complicated time,” she stressed.   The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain has reached more than 80,000, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.   Since the start of March, 10 times more neighborhood groups than usual have been created on Nextdoor Spain, with the site’s number of global daily active users soaring by 80% in March from the previous month.   On Tuesday, California-based Nextdoor launched a “Solidarity Map,” letting registered users worldwide ask their neighbours for help or offer to help someone local in need.   FILE – The dating app Tinder is shown on an Apple iPhone in this photo illustration taken Feb. 10, 2016.Online dating app Tinder is also finding new ways to bring people together at a time when everyone is keeping apart.   The company has announced it is making its “Passport” feature free until April 30, meaning non-premium users, who can usually only connect with people in their current location, can “transport themselves out of self-quarantine to anywhere in the world.”Health experts say that the internet could be a useful tool for staying positive during the pandemic.   “In this unprecedented time, we are all, in most cases, very, very isolated from the world … never in our lifetime have we experienced isolation like this,” said Nathan L. Vanderford, an assisant professor at Kentucky University’s medical school.   “While the potential negative aspects of the internet still apply in our current situation, we can use these platforms to enhance our wellbeing,” he added.   However many elderly people are not plugged into social media and online activity also means we are “bathed in communication” about the pandemic, which could enhance stress, noted Sara Thomee, an assistant professor of psychology at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.  Virtual socializing  Many people are also finding solace in virtual socialising, with colleagues and friends the world over raising a glass via video-conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.   A man walks past hanging Koinobori during a snowfall in Tokyo, March 29, 2020. Tokyo governor has repeatedly asked the city’s 13 million residents to stay home this weekend, saying the capital is on the brink of an explosion in virus infections.In Asia, these sessions have become so popular they have given rise to a Japanese phenomenon called “on-nomi,” or online drinking.   With so many people working from home, virtual get-togethers are key to boosting team spirit, said Kate Walton, head of Steyer Content, a Seattle-based content agency.   “People crave connection. It’s a fundamentally human instinct,” she said, noting that since her 100-strong team began working remotely a month ago, it has bonded over drinks in several so-called “virtual happy hour” sessions.   Some online gatherings go beyond after-work drinks. In Malaysia, which imposed a partial lockdown on March 18, locals are organising online poetry readings, as well as a Stay at Home music festival to raise funds to buy food for medical workers.  Jabier Grey, a languages teacher in Madrid who participated in another online music festival, CoronavirusFest, in March, said the thriving digital scene is giving people the chance to experiment with different ways of coming together.   “It’s a great opportunity for everybody … I think some of the online [gatherings] are likely to remain online after [the crisis],” said Grey, who livestreamed a singing session from his flat via Instagram.   In Germany’s capital Berlin, the city’s famous nightlife has gone digital, with about 250 nightclubs joining forces on the website United We Stream to livestream DJ sets into people’s homes every evening from 7 p.m. until midnight.   In Italy, which has registered more coronavirus deaths than any other country, a group of artists and social media users have launched an Instagram account called My Sweet Quarantine to provide followers with a daily schedule of classes and performances.   Self-improvement  While many people are going online to meet up without leaving their homes, others are using the web to learn something new. In Wuhan, the epicentre of China’s coronavirus outbreak, 24-year-old Zhao Xiaowei has discovered a new culinary passion after the country’s lockdown prompted him to start watching cookery classes on livestreams and the popular video app Douyin. “It’s easier to pass time with technology during lockdown, or our day can be very dull,” he said by phone.   Over in the United States, Valerie Canon, a 38-year-old ballet teacher from Kentucky, said she has been inundated with responses since starting a Facebook page called “My Friends Do Awesome Things. Let’s Learn from Them.”  The mother-of-three, who began by posting classes to keep her students fit during lockdown, said that within three days 1,500 people were using the page, giving her and others the chance to learn a host of “awesome and useful things.”   “In the past few days, I have learned how to put victory rolls in my hair, make a Manhattan [and] how to make an at-home cleaner with citrus fruit and apple vinegar,” she said.   A view shows the deserted area in front of the glass Pyramid of the Louvre museum in Paris as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, March 18, 2020.Museums from Paris to Tbilisi have also moved online, providing virtual tours of their collections or letting artists film live performances in empty rooms.   “We wanted to show that even though we are physically closed, we remain open as an institution that produces culture, disseminating experiences and knowledge,” said Stefano Boeri, president of the Triennale Art & Design Museum in Milan.   Malaysian yoga instructor Susan Tam, who has moved her classes online, said staying digitally active is important for bridging the gap between people caused by self-isolation and social distancing.   “We are used to having these social connections,” she said.   “Doing live online classes means we can still have the community connection without the risk — it’s good for our health.”
   

COVID-19 Started in China. To Change the Narrative, China Started to Tweet

Jeff Kao is a ProPublica reporter who FILE – In this Feb. 16, 2020, photo, a policeman stands guard at Tiananmen Gate following the coronavirus outbreak, in Beijing.Twitter continued, “Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. As Twitter is blocked in PRC, many of these accounts accessed Twitter using VPNs.”The accounts belonged to a “larger, spammy network of approximately 200,00 accounts” that the platform suspended for violating a range of rules covering all users.“I think when social media was created, people in general hoped that it would encourage a more open civil society, discussion of opinion would be easier,” said Vincent Wang, dean pf the College of Arts and Sciences and political science professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.“But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took advantage of the open society and freedom of speech in the West and made it a tool for its own propaganda against democracy,” he said.Kao told VOA Mandarin that he noticed the accounts tweeting about Hong Kong changed.  As the coronavirus spread, the accounts focusing on Hong Kong changed to focus on the epidemic initially covered up by Beijing after it was linked to a market in Wuhan selling wildlife, such as bats, for human consumption. Many coronaviruses, such as COVID-19, start out in animals and jump to humans.As the epidemic raged through China, many of the accounts “became cheerleaders for the government, calling on citizens to unite in support of efforts to fight the epidemic and urging them to ‘dispel online rumors,’” wrote Kao. As the epidemic spread worldwide and became a pandemic, the accounts pointed out China’s response at home.FILE PHOTO: Employees wearing face masks work on a car seat assembly line at Yanfeng Adient factory in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, February 24, 2020.“We were not scared during the outbreak because our country was our rearguard. Many disease fighting warriors were thrust to the front lines” said one. Others pointed out Beijing’s aid to countries such as Italy to ensure Staff members move barriers in front of a railway station of Wuhan on the first day of inbound train services resumed following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan, China, March 28, 2020.“So, it’s a pretty vast effort, and it really makes it pretty difficult for people to understand what’s the truth, particularly if the whole thing is just designed to create one narrative.”Calls to the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment Friday evening were directed automatically to an operator, then went to music before cutting off.Wang called for congressional hearings on nations’ use of Twitter and other platforms to spread disinformation. He wants lawmakers to find a way to protect the principle of freedom of speech while stopping the Chinese Communist Party from “making negative use of the technology for its own propaganda.”He said he believes it would be futile to block China’s accounts.“If you do that, China would have a lot of ways to cope with it by setting up even more new accounts.Wang told VOA Mandarin the best way to combat China’s disinformation efforts is “to raise (the) public’s awareness, so that people using social media can understand that if a so-called news (item) is bad quality information, a lie or disinformation, no matter how many times it is repeated, even if thousands times, it still will not become truth.”Yuwen Cheng and Zhan Qiao of VOA Mandarin contributed to this report.