University of Alberta develops virtual clinic to address COVID-19 pandemic

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the spherical particles of the new coronavirus, colorized blue, from the first U.S. case of COVID-19. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Hannah A. Bullock, Azaibi Tamin/CDC via AP

Scientists at the University of Alberta have developed a tool to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MedROAD is a virtual clinic that uses artificial intelligence and cloud-based computing to assess patients in their own homes.

“With the current COVID-19 pandemic, distance between patients and healthcare providers is not only desired but essential to mitigate the spread of the virus and to flatten the curve,” Pierre Boulanger, a leader in the development of the tool said.

Patients can download an app that collects data from portable medical-grade devices and sends it to a cloud-based server. Doctors can then access the information and can evaluate patients without ever coming into contact with them.

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“Physicians can monitor their patients through video conferencing and receive daily check-ins for COVID-19 positive patients in isolation,” Boulanger said.

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“The aggregated real-time data allows officials to make informed decisions at critical times to respond to the rapidly spreading virus.”

Click to play video: 'Doctors switch to phone and virtual appointments to help curb the spread of the coronavirus'
Doctors switch to phone and virtual appointments to help curb the spread of the coronavirus

The virtual tool was developed out of a special laboratory at the university, under the leadership of Boulanger, a professor in the department of computing science. The project has been brought to the Naiad Lab, a spinoff technology company.

Now, the research team is working closely with a handful of clinics and one long-term care facility in Edmonton to bring MedROAD to patients at risk of contracting the virus.

The team is also working with health officials in Mexico to bring MedROAD to some of its jurisdictions overseas.

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The project was first developed to help bring health care to remote communities but was quickly adapted to help join the fight against COVID-19. The project was made in partnership with the university and is funded by Cisco Canada.

“If it wasn’t for CISCO’s initiative, I do not think we would have had proper funding to drive the project,” director and CEO of Naiad Lab, Esmatullah Naikyar said.

“They have set an exceptional example of industry-funded research that enables educational institutions to advance and create spinoff companies.”

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