Researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) tool for rapidly detecting COVID-19 in people arriving at a hospital’s emergency department. The tool can accurately rule out infection within an hour of a patient arriving at hospital, significantly faster than the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test that has a turnaround time of typically 24 hours.
Widespread use of this tool could reduce the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals and avoid delays to treatment for people who are not infected with the virus.
These AI models could be used to screen for COVID-19 in hospitals to help guide care and stream patients. The vast majority of people arriving at hospital who are COVID-19-negative according to the models could then be treated while awaiting confirmation from the hospital laboratory. When the models suggest someone does have COVID-19, they could await test results and undergo treatment away from other patients.
This approach uses data that is already routinely taken by hospital clinicians during the first hour of a patient’s arrival, meaning additional costs are minimal. The tool fits into existing laboratory testing infrastructure and approach to care in hospitals in high-and middle-income countries. The models can also be adjusted to work effectively at the different stages of a pandemic.
The study provides proof that AI-based screening tools could be useful for screening people in future pandemics.