IMC Newsdesk

Intel helps Houston in Covid-19 fight

  • September 15, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

Intel is working with Medical Informatics Corp (MIC) in Houston to give medical professionals access to the quality data they need in their fight against Covid-19.

The aim is to deliver quality remote care so professionals are protected from exposure to infection through clinical distancing, can scale the capacity of critical care and non-critical care beds and staff, and can collect and analyse data to get ahead of patient deterioration.

To achieve these goals, MIC’s FDA-cleared Sickbay platform collects patient data across disparate bedside devices in ICUs and other care areas to enable flexible, vendor-agnostic remote monitoring and patient-centred analytics at scale.

To fight Covid-19, Houston’s leaders have created a holistic approach across the focus areas of healthcare, education and smart cities.

“We can’t do this without a strong investment in technology,” said Houston mayor Sylvester Turner.

The technology gives hospitals hit hard by the coronavirus the ability to tap healthcare workers remotely from other places by giving doctors, nurses and other care providers access to collected patient data from any enabled PC, tablet or phone, and turn traditional hospital rooms into makeshift virtual intensive care units or low acuity infectious disease units using software run on Intel architecture.

Collected data are used by medical professionals both to monitor patient conditions and proactively consider larger trends. Heather Hitchcock, MIC’s chief commercial officer, said the technology would have a major impact during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

“While hospitals need help now with getting access to data remotely to monitor their patients, they don’t want just a short-term fix,” she said. “They are looking to redefine and simplify their architecture, reduce costs, and increase and protect revenue, not just for Covid-19, but to change the practice of medicine, realise the vision of AI, and create the foundation for a new standard of data-driven medicine and patient-centred care.”

Intel and MIC have launched the Scale to Serve programme to help 100 hospitals rapidly install the Sickbay platform, funding the implementation process and waiving the first 90 days of subscription costs. Qualifying hospitals can skip months of procurement work and set up easily. Once hospitals adopt the platform, it can be deployed in as little as a week and be rapidly scaled as needed.

In advance of the pandemic, Houston Methodist Hospital set up its virtual ICU. Within days it was able to add hundreds of additional intensive care beds across units and is now creating a low acuity command centre and deterioration scores to support second and future waves with the help of a Sickbay installation.

Houston’s 48 school districts are navigating the coronavirus pandemic and the many challenges that come along with a rapid transition to distance learning. With a fifth of Houston students at or below the poverty line, the digital divide was and is more present than ever.

Gabrielle Rowe, whom the mayor tapped to run Houston’s student connectivity efforts, emphasised the importance of technology and innovation in building a resilient Houston.

“We have to do it all, otherwise we will be measured by our weakest link,” she said. “Our black, Latinx and under-resourced citizens haven’t been pushed to the fringe; they’ve been pushed off a cliff. The ladder that will bring them back up the cliff is technology. Without that there is nothing. To be a resilient city, we have to look at all of our citizens. It isn’t really a technology issue, but an equity and affordability issue. Giving a device to someone doesn’t necessarily guarantee connectivity to services and the community as a whole.”

Houston, working closely with Intel, Microsoft and T-Mobile, is trying to bridge the gap between students and their education, as a quarter of students in Texas don’t have access to technology. The support provided by Intel is helping the city understand educational and community needs to bring digital skills and training to students and communities.

Then, working with Intel’s strategic partners, the students and their families who qualify receive T-Mobile internet connectivity, providing students and their families connectivity to the greater community and resources.

Juliet Stipeche, director of the mayor’s office of education, explained that technology empowered not only the students but their families.

“Technology is a lifeline during this pandemic, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” Stipeche said. “If there’s a silver lining from this crisis, it’s compelled collaboration to formulate creative and transformative solutions to bridge the tech divide. Digital equity is critical to the future of Houston’s education, workforce and economy. And enhancing the lives of all Houstonians drives us in this endeavour.”

As the economy reopens and people get back to all the places they gather – offices, cinemas, airports, universities – smart city technologies will play a critical role in ensuring a safe return. Houston is actively planning for a safer return to what Sameer Sharma, Intel’s general manager of smart cities and transportation, describes as “smart spaces”.

In 2019, Intel and the city of Houston established a partnership to bring smart-city technology to life through the Ion smart and resilient cities accelerator. Jesse Bounds, director of the mayor’s office of innovation, said Houston’s resilience plan was in the works prior to Covid-19, however, now the city faced a new set of challenges. The city is turning to partners including start-ups, Intel and others to help respond to Covid-19 and build a more resilient Houston.

One start-up that came from the Intel-supported accelerator programme is Water Lens, which offers genetic water testing technology, including a rapid test for Covid-19. Water Lens is working on a pilot with the city to test for Covid-19 in wastewater to help determine the community infection rate.

Mayor Turner said with many residents working from home, the billions of dollars that would normally be spent on capital improvements to infrastructure around the city could be invested in technology that would go into smart spaces, everything from fever checks to contact tracing and robotics to create a more resilient, sustainable and operational city.

Turner emphasised the importance of using technology to keep front-line workers – medical professionals, grocery workers, transit workers, waste management workers and others – safe and ensure they did not have to forfeit their health for the sake of their jobs.

Houston has been hit especially hard by coronavirus. In July, reports showed a test positivity rate of almost 25% for Harris County, Houston’s home. At the time, that was the tenth highest in the USA for confirmed cases. The city with two million people – plus an additional five million people living in its metro area – is among the most diverse in the USA and one of the largest geographically, spanning 1650 square kilometres. With the coronavirus disproportionately affecting minorities, the diversity and sheer size of the city put its residents at risk.