Machine-learning devices can analyze millions of points of data in a fraction of the time it would take traditional software to compute. While AI can also find patterns that would elude even the most astute scientist’s eye, some doctors worry that initiating brand-new programs during a pandemic could cause initial confusion.
However, high-tech hospital systems like San Diego’s Scripps Health are moving forward with AI risk-assessment models that assign values to a collection of factors, in order to help nurses quickly triage their influx of patients. Regardless of the difference in opinion surrounding the immediate implementation of new AI applications during a pandemic, COVID-19 has paved the way for new funding opportunities to develop AI programs.
The first quarter of 2020 saw $635 million of investments pour into healthcare AI, up nearly $155 million from 2019’s first quarter. Three major healthcare AI tech companies have secured funding for applications specifically related to the pandemic, including Vida Diagnostics. According to the company’s mission statement, Vida uses “imaging-based AI to uniquely profile and manage the patient with or at-risk of respiratory diseases.” To many, this is exactly what the doctor ordered to combat COVID-19.
In March, Vida raised $11 million in a Series C round of funding to support its work on AI-powered lung imaging analysis tools. Vida hopes the funding will fill in deficits in the market in a time when early diagnosis and treatment of respiratory illnesses are more important than ever. According to First Analysis managing director Tracy Marshbanks, “Pulmonology and radiology are severely underserved areas of health care — the need is expanding, and the number of clinicians is limited. Vida is in an optimal position to deliver innovation and increase access.”
Mount Sinai Health System has jumped on the AI train to assist with COVID-19, but their Vice President of Clinical Innovation, Robbie Freeman, made it clear that for now, it’s to be used in conjunction with more tried-and-true methods of analysis. He looks at it as a “conversation starter,” that should be one of many tools providers use to make an informed decision.