How A Pandemic Accelerates Digital Innovation in Medicine and Healthcare

Ahead of the digitalization curve: how Alberta Canada takes advantage of it's solid digital health infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic

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The digital revolution in medicine and healthcare began some 15 years ago [1].

Highly digitalized healthcare systems employing networked electronic medical record installations with real time data collection, result sharing and decision support tools, can improve active surveillance, timely case finding, effective isolation, testing, tracing of every contact in containment and enforce social distancing, all of which have been identified by the WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Hazards (STAG-IH) as key factors to control the COVID-19 pandemic [2].

Digitally Integrated Health Services and Virtual Healthcare Care in Alberta

The Canadian Province of Alberta invested early into what has now evolved into one of the largest population based comprehensive electronic medical record (EMR) systems [3].

Alberta Connect Care Population Based Health Record System Overview

Today Springer Nature published our article where we describe how securing a position ahead of the digitalization curve enabled rapid expansion of virtual care, deployment of self-assessment online tools, linking of online screening with testing and tracing, provincial result sharing, and provincially standardized management with best practice advisories, pandemic patient and resource data collection [4].

However, the potential of our unique provincial electronic health record extends well beyond day-to-day management of a global health crisis over a vast geographical area.

University of Alberta Precision Health Strategy
Source University of Alberta Precision Health Signature Area. All rights reserved.

With a multidisciplinary team of physicians, epidemiologists, public health experts, social and computing scientists of the  University of Alberta’s Precision Health and Artificial Intelligence for Society Signature Areas together with the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), the Kule Institute of Advanced Study (KIAS), Alberta Innovates, Alberta Health Services, Alberta Health and Edmonton AI we are joining forces to take on SARS-CoV-2 [5] and other complex systemic disorders [6] such as Crohn's disease [7] and ulcerative colitis with a big data approach that integrates health records with additional data sets, such as the Open Data Catalogue.

This research has received funding by a Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) grant.

References

[1]             Baumgart, D. C. Personal digital assistants in health care: experienced clinicians in the palm of your hand? Lancet 366, 1210-1222, https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(05)67484-3 (2005).

[2]             Bedford, J. et al. COVID-19: towards controlling of a pandemic. Lancet 395, 1015-1018, https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30673-5 (2020).

[3]             Connect Care. (2020). https://youtu.be/UD0uBj2-zuE

[4]             Baumgart, D. C. Digital advantage in the COVID-19 response: perspective from Canada’s largest integrated digitalized healthcare system. NPJ Digital Medicine 3, 114, https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41746-020-00326-y (2020).

[5]             Wu, F. et al. A new coronavirus associated with human respiratory disease in China. Nature 579, 265-269, https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2008-3 (2020).

[6]           Baumgart D.C. Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. From Epidemiology and Immunobiology to a Rational Diagnostic and Therapeutic Approach. Springer International Publishing https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-33703-6 (2017)

[7]             Baumgart, D. C. & Sandborn, W. J. Crohn's disease. The Lancet 380, 1590-1605, https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60026-9 (2012).

Daniel C. Baumgart

Professor and Division Director, Trailblazer of Digital Innovation in Biomedical Research, Medicine and Healthcare, University of Alberta

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