Roundup: UK contact-tracing app switches to Google-Apple model, Microsoft 365 and NHS deal to save millions, and more briefs

Also, Medwise.ai wins UK grant to develop AI-powered question answering platform for health care professionals during COVID-19.
By Sara Mageit
04:06 am
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UK CONTACT TRACING APP SWITCH

In a major U-turn, the UK is switching from its existing centralised contact tracing app to the technology provided by Google and Apple.

At the Downing Street briefing, health secretary, Matt Hancock said the new app is months from being ready however said the government would not “put a date” on when the app will be launched.

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In a joint statement from Baroness Dido Harding, executive chair of NHS Test and Trace and Matthew Gould, CEO, NHSX, both said: “Our ambition is to develop an app which will enable anyone with a smartphone to engage with every aspect of the NHS Test and Trace service, from ordering a test through to accessing the right guidance and advice. This will support our vision of helping more people get back to the most normal life possible at the lowest risk.”

The NHS has been carrying out rigorous field testing on both systems over the last few months in the hope of launching an app later in the year. Results on distance calculations have shown that the version piloted on the Isle of Wight worked well at assessing the distance between two users but wasn’t as successful in recognising Apple’s iPhones. By contrast, the Apple-Google model recognised iPhones but its distance calculations were weaker.

However, with concerns over data held on contacts, the Apple-Google model has been promoted as being more privacy-focused and has been more favourable in this respect. Other advantages of the switch are the possibility of carrying out Bluetooth “handshakes”, as well as easier app compatibility with other countries which have the same system.

Previously, the government had stressed that its app would be more effective than the Google-Apple version. Earlier this week, Lord Bethell, the minister for innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care, stated that the much anticipated NHS contact tracing app may not be ready until the winter and that it “isn’t a priority for us at the moment.” He insisted it was still the government’s intention to introduce it later this year and described it as, “a really important option for the future.”

It is understood that NHSX CEO Matthew Gould and Geraint Lewis, NHS England's chief data officer, have both stepped back from the project, with ex-Apple executive Simon Thompson charged with management of the app.

NHS AND MICROSOFT 365 DEAL GUARANTEES SIGNIFICANT COST SAVINGS

An agreement struck between NHSX, NHS Digital and Microsoft will guarantee substantial cost savings for the NHS as a whole. It will enable all eligible organisations in England to access Microsoft digital tools - improving productivity, enhancing collaboration and strengthening cybersecurity.

As part of the deal, Microsoft 365 will be deployed to approximately 1.2 million staff across NHS organisations. This comprises of trusts, CCGs, and health informatics services and will create what the NHS have described as “a truly joined-up NHS.” Staff will have access to key information and services they need which will reduce the administrative burden on staff and improve patient safety.

Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, said: “This deal with Microsoft represents a saving of hundreds of millions of pounds. This is a direct result of negotiations led jointly by NHSX and NHS Digital.”

“It means staff will have access to the best possible collaboration and productivity tools, and that our cyber defenses are as strong as possible.”

MEDWISE.AI WINS UK GRANT TO DEVELOP COVID-19 QUESTION ANSWERING PLATFORM

Medwise.ai are set to benefit from a £40m investment from the UK government to boost cutting-edge technology advances, particularly as a response to the pandemic.

On 20 May, the UK Government announced that the Innovate UK scheme will distribute investments to 800 businesses and start-ups, in its aims to support the UK’s next generation of innovative businesses. Projects to benefit from the funding include virtual training platforms for surgeons and virtual farmers’ markets.

The funding will allow Medwise.ai and its development partners, health tech specialists Mindwave Ventures to further improve the design, performance, and scalability of the platform.

Medwise.ai uses natural language processing technology to help clinicians find answers in a fast and concise way. The artificial intelligence platform aggregates information from academic journal articles and national guidelines to provide healthcare professionals with the latest information on COVID-19.

A beta version of the platform has launched for public testing and the service will be free to NHS workers.  

HOME-MONITORING PLATFORM FOR CYSTIC FIBROSIS PATIENTS

Ireland-based technology company, patientMpower have announced the release of a new technology platform that enables home monitoring of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF), providing a treatment option that can reduce risks during the COVID-19 crisis.

The patientMpower app for CF allows people to measure vital signs relevant for their condition at home - including clinical grade measurement of their lung function and oxygen levels and recording of body weight and sputum volume. Patients’ information is immediately available for healthcare staff to view via a secure portal in the hospital.

People with CF are one of the high risk groups that are currently advised to shield and stay at home during the crisis and are vulnerable to lung infections. This has presented a challenge for doctors in being able to provide the normal, routine hospital check-ups that people with CF need while minimising the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

NEW ONLINE BOOKING SYSTEM FOR THERAPIST-LED COT VIDEO-ASSESSMENTS

Theraposture, specialist in adjustable beds, chairs, and care cots, is experiencing growing demand for its latest occupational therapist-led, personalised video-assessments – following the introduction of a new web appointment calendar.

Offering an alternative to home visits, video-appointments provide a face-to-face opportunity for the occupational therapist (OT), to assess individual needs, answer questions and see a client’s environment. Home assessment visits are still available if requested, however for clients who are shielding or who do not want visitors, the option to choose a video call is available.

Bookings for Theraposture’s new service can be made by telephone or by their new online calendar booking app. This process is designed to be simple to use; visitors click on an available date, select preferences and the appointment is booked with the OT.

Theraposture stress that its video services are supported by its COVID-19 safe working practices which ensure product installations and service calls and home visits are safe for all involved.

ADA AWARDED AS TECHNOLOGY PIONEER

Health technology company, Ada, has been named as a ‘technology pioneer’ by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Each year, the WEF selects 100 ‘technology pioneers’ for this prestigious award, representing companies who are excelling in their industries. They select pioneers based on the community’s selection criteria, which includes innovation, impact and leadership as well as the company’s relevance with the World Economic Forum’s Platforms.

Ada made it to the selection for its contributions to AI and healthcare innovation. Since its global launch in 2016, it has completed 18 million assessments worldwide and is the number one app in 140 countries.

Following its selection as ‘technology pioneer’, Ada will contribute to forum initiatives over the next two years, working with policymakers and private sector leaders to help define the global agenda on key issues.

“It’s an honour to be recognised by the World Economic Forum and join this diverse group of industry leaders in tackling our most pressing global challenges,” said Ada’s CEO Daniel Nathrath.

“The team at Ada is dedicated to using our technology and expertise to support better health outcomes for all. Healthcare is undergoing a massive transformation, and we look forward to contributing to the Forum dialogue on how innovation can enable a future where everyone has access to the healthcare they need.”

FREE SOFTWARE FOR SCIENTISTS AND RESEARCHERS WORKING ON MEDICAL IMAGING

Zegami, the Oxford University data visualisation spin-out, has launched a new scheme where scientists and researchers from who are working on medical imaging projects, can apply for a grant to use its software for free. Preference will be given to scientists and researchers who are working on COVID-19 projects.

Zegami has developed a proof of concept machine learning model using X-rays of COVID-19 infected lungs. They have created artificial intelligence techniques and data visualisation tools that could help medical professionals identify Coronavirus cases more effectively and potentially lead to effective treatments.

For the platform to reach its full potential, Zegami is trying to source a large supply of COVID-19 X-rays and details on treatments used for patients and the outcomes. 

Roger Noble, CEO and founder, Zegami said: “We are keen to support researchers and scientists working on medical imaging, and we invite anyone working in these areas – in particular COVID-19 - to apply for a grant to use our software. We aim to ensure that everyone can benefit from our solutions – commercial or not.”

More regional news

Technology Partnership Plc (TTP), CoTest, COVID-19

Credit: Technology Partnership Plc (TTP) CoTest device 

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