The COVID Effect: Health Tech's Time to Shine

Intel® technology is helping to power the response to the devastating global pandemic

Technical innovation has been a major force in the healthcare sector for some time, but the global pandemic has accelerated the need for new approaches. Increasing access to the technology that can combat COVID-19 is absolutely vital, not only in fighting the immediate battle but also to enable the scientific discoveries that will prepare us for future crises. Intel® technology underpins many of the responses to the current pandemic in the healthcare sector, from 3D printed ventilators to robot cleaners.

“Intel is committed to accelerating access to technology that can combat the current pandemic and enable new technology and scientific discovery that better prepares society for future crises”

Intel has already pledged $50 million to a pandemic response technology initiative, with approximately $40 million going towards funding the Intel COVID-19 Response and Readiness and Online Learning initiatives. The purpose is to fund the acceleration of customer and partner advances in diagnosis, treatments and vaccine development, using technologies such as AI and high-performance computing (HPC). The additional $10 million has been allocated to an innovation fund that supports requests from external partners and employee-led relief projects, addressing critical needs in their communities.

AI-Powered Healthcare Innovations

One example of the Intel-powered innovation that is already making its mark in healthcare is the AI-powered robot Violet. This autonomous virus-killing robot uses ultraviolet light to sanitise rooms and equipment. Developed by Irish startup Akara*, the prototype uses an Intel® Movidius™ Myriad™ X Vision Processing Unit (VPU) to navigate safely around people while disinfecting hospital surfaces. The idea is to speed up this vital task while keeping healthcare workers safe. Robots like Violet could eventually be used in settings outside of the healthcare sector.

Also making use of AI is Intel® AI Builders member Huiying Medical* in Beijing. The healthcare enterprise has developed a medical imaging diagnostic solution that uses CT chest scans to assist with early detection of coronavirus infections. These can be used to complement standard lab testing. Algorithms were developed using imaging data from over 4,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and the AI-assisted screening system has now been rolled out to more than 20 hospitals in China. 

Fast-Tracking Telehealth

Along with AI, another area that has seen its importance rise dramatically during the pandemic is telehealth, where technology is used to deliver healthcare remotely. Telehealth provisions have been swiftly scaled up as a result of COVID-19, helping healthcare professionals to talk to patients in isolation rooms while reducing the risk of infection. There are a number of hospitals using telehealth platforms powered by Intel® technology.

One example is Banner Health*, a nonprofit health system in the U.S. with 28 hospitals in six states. Working with Intel and health tech specialist VeeMed, Banner Health was able to deploy a telehealth system to over 1,000 in-room televisions across 28 facilities enabling staff to see more patients without risking transmission of the coronavirus. Telehealth provisions have also helped doctors to provide remote consultations to patients at home during the pandemic - something that is likely to continue in future.

From Pandemic Modelling to Testing

Along with AI-based approaches and telehealth, Intel® technology has provided the underlying technology for essential virus testing. Intel was one of a group of companies that developed a system based on Intel® NUC mini PCs to support COVID-19 testing centres in Germany. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s most densely populated state, 110 test centres were opened within days using the Intel®-based infrastructure.

Intel also powers many of the word's most powerful supercomputers which are being used to tackle the COVID-19 from a number of angles. From building digital models and simulations of the virus to modelling the population's pandemic response and even assisting with vaccine development, supercomputers are helping the scientific community rise to the current challenge. As well as delivering insights to help tackle the current pandemic, these high-performance computers will also help researchers to investigate the additional challenges and opportunities that arise in the aftermath.

"The world faces an enormous challenge in fighting COVID-19," said Intel CEO Bob Swan "Intel is committed to accelerating access to technology that can combat the current pandemic and enable new technology and scientific discovery that better prepares society for future crises. We hope that by sharing our expertise, resources and technology, we can help to accelerate work that saves lives and expands access to critical services around the world during this challenging time.”

While the economic and social outcome of the pandemic has been catastrophic, it has also acted as a catalyst to speed up development of much-needed health tech. And while a range of emerging technologies can help us to combat COVID-19 in the short-term, it's clear that many of the latest innovations are here to stay.

*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others