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COVID-19 Updates with Paul Roma

ByHLTH & Paul Roma|June 17, 2020

Q&A with Paul Roma

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team will be interviewing experts from across the ecosystem to bring the HLTH community timely facts and updates.

HLTH Team: As a business leader, how are you setting priorities and managing your organization through these unprecedented times?

COVID-19 has disrupted everyone. As a business leader, I need to make sure that we’re taking care of our employees and clients. Many people are working from home, maybe they’re juggling taking care of kids or parents, they could be struggling with stress or anxiety. Our clients are wrestling with the same issues we are. It’s more important than ever for employees to be flexible and stay connected – with each other and with clients. 

I’m proud of the way our teams have stepped up to support our clients, partners and communities. IBM is aligning with needs across industries to help address business continuity, security risks, supply chains, remote workforces, and of course, supporting health and human services. IBM has several initiatives to help companies prepare their workforce for the new normal. For example, IBM Return-to-Workplace Advisor helps employers monitor data and make evidence-based decisions about when to return to the workplace.

HLTH Team: What’s the role of advanced technology in a pandemic? How is it helping patients right now?

Patients have a lot of important questions right now. For example, people might ask their providers how they can tell if they have COVID-19, or where they can go for testing. They might need to check coverage with their health plans or employers. Or they might need unemployment or food assistance from government agencies. People are flooding healthcare and human services organizations with these questions at the same time some call centers are managing their own remote work situations.

Organizations can use AI to help connect people to the answers and resources they need. This is especially important during times of crisis. Conversational AI can help these organizations answer common questions about COVID-19. We’ve shared some examples in a news release about how government and healthcare organizations around the world are using Watson Assistant for Citizens to help answer people’s questions quickly and accurately.

HLTH Team: What are some other ways advanced technology and AI are helping organizations with COVID-19 response efforts?

One important way AI is being used by health systems is to help providers on the front lines. AI can help surface the information providers need – such as evidence-based drug and disease information – at the point of care. They can make more informed decisions if they have access to the latest evidence. We’ve given free access to DynaMed and Micromedex with Watson to help providers with access to high-quality content about drugs and diseases, including COVID-19.

Life sciences companies are working hard to find a way to prevent, contain and treat COVID-19. It’s a challenge to work under this timeline, because clinical development is a long process. One of IBM’s key initiatives is to help accelerate discovery around COVID-19, and there are a number of efforts underway – including our high-performance computing consortium.  We are also offering IBM Clinical Development free of charge to eligible research teams focused on COVID-19. We’ve been able to help sponsors get several COVID-19 trials running across 35 different sites. One example, Bionical Emas, published a case study about how it was able to set up a clinical trial on COVID-19 in five business days. 

Employers are using advanced tech to make better decisions, too. Right now, employers are deciding about when employees can return to the workplace. They have to do it in a way that protects employee health while balancing the needs of their customers and clients. Lots of factors come into play for each worksite. Local COVID-19 infection rates, employee symptoms and health risk factors, local regulations, company policies…and these factors keep changing all the time. As I mentioned earlier, IBM is working to help employers support their employees in the new normal. IBM Return-to-Workplace Advisor fits into that effort, as it’s designed to help employers and employees look at all of these data sources together and determine how best to proceed for their organizations.

As one final example, public health officials are looking to technology to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as states ease social distancing rules. Contact tracing can help case workers identify clients who have been infected and follow-up with anyone who might have been exposed. These are powerful capabilities to help slow the spread of the disease. 

HLTH Team: How has COVID-19 affected advanced technology adoption?

In the race to respond to COVID-19, I think we have seen some acceleration around digital transformation and the adoption of things like telehealth, as well as advanced technologies, AI and blockchain.

Here’s just one example: a blockchain-powered network is helping address medical supply shortages. Many of us have heard of how COVID-19 has exhausted supply chains for things like masks, gowns or other equipment needed. Other companies have stepped up to mass produce some of these items – but before hospitals and state agencies can purchase from them, they have to, first, identify these new suppliers, validate they are a trusted supplier, and be able to see what they’ve got in their inventories, real-time. To help with that, IBM launched IBM Rapid Supplier Connect, which is designed to help government agencies and healthcare organizations find and onboard new vendors.

Advanced technologies, cloud, AI, blockchain are all proving to be useful tools in the COVID-19 crisis. I expect healthcare will continue to use them to solve our toughest challenges.

About Paul Roma:

Paul Roma is the Global General Manager for IBM Watson Health, an organization helping to lead the transformation of health around the world by applying next-generation technologies, such as data, analytics, AI and hybrid cloud, to address the most pressing health challenges globally. Watson Health partners with the greatest minds in the healthcare world – including Memorial Sloan Kettering, Mayo Clinic, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard among others in life sciences, health plans and tech – to research, develop, train and test our technologies.