Ebola: 10 Tech Responses To Deadly Disease - InformationWeek

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10/24/2014
09:16 AM
Alison Diana
Alison Diana
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Ebola: 10 Tech Responses To Deadly Disease

Tech companies are addressing the Ebola scare by offering everything from germ-zapping robots to Ebola tracking apps.
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(Source: NIAID)
(Source: NIAID)

Ebola's arrival on Western shores is prompting a growing number of developers to focus on using technology to combat the deadly virus.

After the first confirmed cases of Ebola -- including the first death -- in the United States, 41% of Americans were "very or somewhat worried" about contracting Ebola, compared with 32% two weeks prior, according to the Pew Research Center poll conducted between Oct. 15 and Oct. 20. Most recently, 61% of respondents said they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in hospitals to "diagnose and isolate possible cases of Ebola."

Despite the public's faith, most organizations involved in Ebola cases admit to early mistakes. In that, the nation has been fortunate, healthcare executives said. Other potential pandemics would hit harder, faster -- and obviously the country's existing healthcare system is unable to cope.

"When we looked at trying to manage one single patient in the United States, we missed it. Even when we knew, we sent his contacts on a plane," said Dr. Kenneth Mandl, Harvard Professor in the Boston Children's Hospital Informatics Program, in an interview.

Soon after the virus arrived in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) began an initiative to help EHR software users address Ebola. During an October webinar, the organizations discussed how "to explore ways in which the electronic medical record can serve as a prompt to help our healthcare professionals around the country identify individuals that may be at risk for Ebola," said Dana Meaney Delman, M.D., deputy lead of CDC's Medical Care Task Force (Ebola Response), reported HealthData Management.

Yet focusing solely on tweaking software -- whether EHRs, clinical decision support software, or analytics programs -- specifically to address Ebola is shortsighted, according to several experts who spoke to InformationWeek. The nation faces numerous threats, ranging from illnesses such as flu to man-made biological agents such as anthrax, that could cause pandemics. Hospitals must ensure they have the training, processes, and technological tools to address any emergency, not just Ebola, they stressed.

All of today's approximately 1,000 EHR vendors now must modify their applications to incorporate questions about travel histories, Mandl said -- and that's the wrong approach. "When the makers of Angry Birds wanted to create their popular game, they did not have to fly to Cupertino and have a conversation with Steve Jobs. The way Steve Jobs set up the iPhone, an external device could simply make it happen. They knew how to talk to [their version of the electronic medical record], so to speak," said Mandl. "They did not need to have a specialized solution. There's absolutely no reason why ... we shouldn't have a similar solution [in healthcare]."

Most likely the next health threat will have a different root -- and that means the CDC will once again call in all EHR vendors to revise their apps, require IT departments to upgrade their systems, and retrain users on the new features, he said. Instead, providers and developers should use an API that sits on top of any EHR or clinical data warehouse, empowering organizations to use iPad-like apps to access public health data resources, EHR data, and other information useful to physicians, he said.

Healthcare and government must use Ebola as an opportunity to learn for future health emergencies, Arijit Sengupta, CEO of BeyondCore, told InformationWeek. "Unless we use these moments of crisis to learn from them, we're going to keep repeating the same old stuff. They're taking one or two cases and having a lot of scary discussions on TV. We need to alleviate this. It's a crisis we shouldn't let go to waste. This isn't a pandemic yet. If this was a real pandemic, how should we approach this?"

Some technologies, including robots that destroy viruses and other germs, already are well suited to responding to a disease such as Ebola, and developers have seen an uptick in demand for their proven devices. Other vendors are now retrofitting existing products, while others have created brand new applications for a market that didn't exist only 12 months ago in the US.

Whether providers are really at risk for Ebola cases or want to be prepared for any form of epidemic, a growing number of technology firms are taking on the challenge of helping them prepare. Explore our slideshow for a look at some of them.

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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10/24/2014 | 10:04:40 AM
ICD-10 wont' save us from Ebola
While it's true the ICD-10 coding mandate that was supposed to be implemented this Fall (before Congress authorized a delay) includes many more diagnosis codes, I can't imagine that would have made a difference in the Dallas case that resulted in the first Ebola death in the US. The problem was the clinicians didn't recognize the warning signs and didn't know what they were dealing with when the patient first showed up at the emergency room (or even later, when he was first admitted to the hospital).

Once the diagnosis was made, it didn't require an ICD-10 code to communicate that to anyone in the hospital -- it was being announced in press conferences and broadcast everywhere. If Ebola were to spread more widely, proper coding might eventually be useful for statistical tracking of the disease. But not for detection and treatment.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/24/2014 | 10:35:30 AM
Re: ICD-10 wont' save us from Ebola
No, ICD-10 won't save us from Ebola but what many executives hope we take away from this crisis are larger lessons that healthcare, government, and consumers can translate to other likely epidemics in the future. That's why some were adament that patching Ebola-specific features into EHRs is short-sighted; rather, they said, we should use this virus as a prompt to adopt flexible, open capabilities that will work equally well for Ebola, anthrax, smallpox, measles, swine flu, or something we've not even heard of yet.
tekedge
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tekedge,
User Rank: Moderator
10/27/2014 | 4:38:17 PM
Re: ICD-10 wont' save us from Ebola
@ David ! Yeah I agree. The press did help to get the word out. But with limited knowledge of the disease it caused panic amongst the common people which created different theories about the disease, and  one of them turned out to be this one.

 

But this is a wake up call that the health system needs to get ready for any outbreak of  such kind!
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
10/28/2014 | 2:07:40 PM
Re: ICD-10 wont' save us from Ebola
I keep hearing, mostly from the media but also from select politicians, that people are "panicking" about Ebola. No one is panicking. People are asking legitimate questions. People are leery of politicians who contradict themselves at every turn. People are tired of hearing journalists and politicians make sweeping, uninformed pronouncements about there being "no chance" of this or that happening. There's worry. But there's no panic.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/29/2014 | 9:40:23 AM
Re: ICD-10 wont' save us from Ebola
I agree to a point: We've seen forced quarantine in New Jersey (since lifted) that apparently came from FUD, not science, but in general I don't think many people are really concerned they're going to get Ebola. As i have said before in comments, what seems to worry those in healthcare is not the threat of Ebola itself; it's more the fact that government and healthcare agencies seemed woefully unprepared for what has, thankfully, turned out to be a minimally contagious disease. They are worried about how the country would respond to a much more contagious disease -- set of either by man or nature -- if it were to happen here. Based on what we've seen with Ebola, it appears we would not do well as a society, despite all the advances we've made, and that's frightening... not the disease.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
10/29/2014 | 12:30:10 PM
Re: ICD-10 wont' save us from Ebola

Diana I agree this is a wakeup call not only for contagious diseases but other health issues. EHR vendors need to be flexible and fluid with regard to changing their apps, customization for regional issues may even be necessary to be fully effective. Cloud and other infrastructure changes should make these types of changes faster and more transparent but it seems there are still hiccups. Hopefully this will be a fire drill for many and when the real fire hits we will be prepared.

PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
10/29/2014 | 8:01:52 PM
Re: ICD-10 wont' save us from Ebola
@Rob...I was thinking that  the other day. There is cause for concern but not panik... which is not happeneing. I think we all have heard enough from polititians and media in general about things like this. Don't worry... everything is ok. Much of the time that is said when they no nothing about it.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/24/2014 | 10:32:17 AM
Donation Update
As reported in this morning's USA Today, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen donated $100,000,000 to the US State Department for containment units to evacuate health professionals from West Africa. Bill and Melinda Gates' foundation gave $50 million. 
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
10/25/2014 | 1:09:48 PM
Silver Lining
Considering the hundreds of thousands of annual deaths caused by obesity, alcohol, tobacco & automobile accidents compared to the single casualty of ebola, you'd think there was a pandemic.  But then I guess if not for yellow "journalism" Americans wouldn't have anything to obsess over needlessly.  On the other hand, the development of ebola-specific apps/tech can't be a bad thing. 
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
10/26/2014 | 12:10:30 AM
Re: Silver Lining
Hopefully one of the things learned about consumers out of this crisis is why fear and obsession spreads faster than the disease, and how best to control it. The 24/7 news business is feeding and manipulating this, but they wouldn't if it didn't get ratings. In other words, consumers want this "yellow journalism." They want their fear and obsession fed. Even with the Black Death in the middle ages, news of death ships and other affected cities spread ahead of the epidemic.
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
10/26/2014 | 10:14:21 AM
Re: Silver Lining
The media is definitely playing this one for every bit of drama they can muster.  In a way I'm thankful for the reprieve from the serial murderer stories and ISIS beheading videos that the media had been feasting on.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/27/2014 | 10:22:42 AM
Re: Silver Lining
Oh absolutely! There has been so much misinformation out there, on all major networks, that it would be laughable if it wasn't so sad. 
tekedge
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tekedge,
User Rank: Moderator
10/27/2014 | 4:29:53 PM
Re: Silver Lining
If there is so much misinformation in the media about the disease why is the media not bringing in health professionals so that the public gets the right information and not be stressing out and panicking!
tekedge
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tekedge,
User Rank: Moderator
10/27/2014 | 4:24:56 PM
Re: Silver Lining
Yeah the media hype is there I agree. But in the Ebola case we need it to be repeated over and over again so that the affected nations get the help they need and there is awareness of this deadly disease!
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/27/2014 | 10:21:40 AM
Re: Silver Lining
Within the United States, all the attention on Ebola is really overblown. Within parts of Africa, we haven't -- as a nation -- paid enough attention when you look at the staggering death rates and high rate of transmission from patient to patient. Looking at Ebola selfishly in the West, I think we need to take it as a wake-up call for what we'd do if it wasn't Ebola, if it was something that did spread via air, that did make people sick faster, and that was harder to treat or much faster spreading in the west. As we've seen, US health systems are unprepared for Ebola -- and would be unprepared for anything even worse, more contagious, or more lethal. 

With that in mind, government and health leaders must figure out the weak points, review the failures and any highlights, and determine how they can improve the system so fewer people (consumers, healthcare workers, government agents) would be affected in the face of a full-blown pandemic. 
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
10/27/2014 | 11:35:39 AM
germ zapping robots
I wouldn't call germ-zapping robots an  innovation. Hospitals have been equipped with machines that use UV radiations to kill air-borne germs in operation theatres for a long time. But around a 50 percent drop rate in hospital acquired infections is indeed a tangible imporvement.I wonder what makes them more effective than our routine sterilization equipments
tekedge
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tekedge,
User Rank: Moderator
10/27/2014 | 4:31:27 PM
Re: germ zapping robots
I am really confused with this concept. I do not want to laugh it out because the way technology is moving so fast it may become a everyday reality soon
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/29/2014 | 9:37:11 AM
Re: germ zapping robots
I saw this robot in action at a Florida hospital and it is truly impressive to see. In traditional settings, a janitor cleans a hospital room using bleach or other caustic solution. The robot uses light to destroy myriad biological matter, leaving a faint "clean" scent but none of the nasty smells associated with harsh cleaning fluids. Also, it can be used to clean electronics such as phones, television reemotes, medical equipment, beds, and blinds, where germs lurk. It doesn't necessarily put maintenance staff out of work; these teams are responsible for moving the robots (which don't wheel themselves around) and setting up the simple controls for timing. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/27/2014 | 5:16:02 PM
Re: germ zapping robots
You're correct that these devices have been around for a long time and are effective against a host of viruses. From what I've read, a number of hospitals asked about these robots after Ebola arrived in the US so the condition sparked interest that hadn't been there beforehand. MERS also sparked interest, although you'd hope hospitals would always do their best to kill disease! 
MC Hart
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MC Hart,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/30/2014 | 10:04:09 AM
Re: germ zapping robots
You're right -- UV light for disinfection has been used for decades. What's unique about Xenex germ-zapping robots is that Xenex uses xenon, an environmentally friendly inert gas, to create the UV light. Only Xenex uses xenon -- every other UV system uses mercury, which is toxic and much less powerful (takes hours to disinfect a single room). UV light produced by xenon is broad spectrum light (from 200 nm to 320 nm) covering the entire germicidal UV band. Xenon UV does 4 types of cellular damage whereas mercury UV only damages the cell 1 way. Xenex robots are faster & more effective -- which is why hospitals using the robots are reporting fewer infections.  
tekedge
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tekedge,
User Rank: Moderator
10/27/2014 | 4:23:31 PM
10 Tech Responses to Deadly Disease
It is really blown out of proportion here in the US. Yes one has to  be safe than sorry. But the govt and health agencies  are acting fast after someone died here from the disease  and I hope that there is some relief for the outbreak in Africa because of the solutions that are coming up here! I hope the apps are useful for affected regions. Do they really have the technology to access them and will the health workers who are working tirelessly going to be helped with these technologies gaining popularity here in the US...
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
10/30/2014 | 10:23:22 AM
Robot On The Move
Just heard from the folks at Xenex that their robot was overnighted to Langley Air Force Base to help with their Ebola preparedness. (As we all know, members of the armed forces who help those with Ebola in areas of Africa will now be placed in mandatory 21-day quarantine when they return to the States.) 

"The Xenex robot at Langley will primarily be deployed for the disinfection of patient treatment areas including; in-patient rooms, operating rooms, isolation rooms, intensive care units, and common use areas.  In addition, the Xenex robot is available to provide decontamination in response to a natural or intentional biological event," the spokeswoman told me. "Xenex supports the 633 MDG's medical readiness mission and provides an effective countermeasure to can mitigate the risk of diseases such as Ebola from spreading. Xenex robots can be used to disinfect all areas where an infected patient will be transported or treated (aircraft, ambulance, ambuses, hospitals, PPE)." 
jalamgir
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jalamgir,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/31/2014 | 4:13:27 PM
Outbreak management
Alison – Great article. The Ebola outbreak is a major global problem that requires the industry's best thinking and resources -- like the Xenex robot. Healthcare and government need technology that is scalable and can be quickly and easily configured.

Xerox is responding with Maven, its disease surveillance and outbreak management software. Maven is currently deployed in public health agencies in 12 U.S. jurisdictions. It uses a scalable and integrated solution to securely track people who are either infected with or exposed to communicable diseases like Ebola. Unlike other case management systems, Maven is not a program-specific, siloed database. It's accessible across jurisdictions to local and state public health professionals and is able to integrate electronic reporting in real time, allowing state and local public health personnel to react rapidly to emerging needs. This is a critical element to managing disease outbreak, and early containment of an outbreak is better than the alternative. - Joy Alamgir, founder and chief strategy officer of Consilience, A Xerox Company.
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