Metadvice Medical Mysteries: Covid 19 - Introduction

By Richard Barker, Co-Founder - Metadvice Ltd | 22 July 2020
Reading time: 2 minutes

This Metadvice blog series explores the mysteries surrounding the complexities of SARS-CoV-2 infection on people and healthcare systems, and how advanced analytics and technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), developed by companies like Metadvice can help navigate these complexities.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists who study infectious diseases are working alongside front-line clinicians who are being called upon to make critical decisions involving the health of citizens around the world. The COVID-19 crisis is also pushing increased international collaboration between different sectors such as healthcare systems, academic research, pharmaceutical industries and diagnostics companies in the hope of finding safe and effective treatments as fast as possible. Other notable consequences of the pandemic include doctors sharing the knowledge obtained through experience. Clinicians at the frontline are helping their homologous counterparts from other countries treat patients to the best of their abilities. As an example, the experience on how to best treat COVID-19 patients obtained by healthcare professionals in Italy at the beginning of the pandemic was immediately shared with others in other European countries. We coined the term “the science of experience” which is being played out in real time - to explain this phenomenon.

Some information about how to counter COVID-19 has been derived, in part from experience from other known coronaviruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). However, much remains unknown about SARS-CoV-2 which is notable for its unique features. Major uncertainties include the origin of the virus, its transmission and the reasons why certain groups are particularly vulnerable to its severe clinical consequences (the flip side of the latter coin being the relative protection enjoyed by children). The rapidly evolving knowledge base cautions against oversimplification of these issues based on incomplete evidence. Here we run up against a central tenet of medical science; knowledge is always partial at best. Clinicians make decisions with consequences that range from trivial to determining whether life or death prevails. Nowhere has the experience and skill of clinicians being tested more rigorously than in the context of COVID-19.

Beyond supportive measures, no approved therapy is currently available for COVID-19. The scientific research community is engaged in an effort that is unprecedented in scale and urgency. The various fronts in the war against the virus range from accelerated clinical trials for vaccines and antiviral agents (novel or repurposed) allied to the development of better testing and diagnostics tools. As ever, preclinical studies pave the route for human studies, again with a huge raft of caveats.

It is our hope that this series exploring the mysteries surrounding the novel coronavirus will shine some light on current knowledge gaps and show how international healthcare and medical science communities are rising to the challenges. In particular, we will consider the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) to be brought to bear in the effort alongside conventional research methodologies. COVID-19 is the first pandemic for which we have AI in our collective armamentarium. A sound understanding of the utility and potential drawbacks of AI is increasingly required by researchers, clinicians and policy makers. We anticipate that the influence of AI in medicine will only expand, accelerated in no small part by the current pandemic.