Israel is running its first artificial intelligence-powered flu vaccination campaign.
Medial EarlySign and Maccabi Healthcare are running the program, according to EarlySign, whose senior leadership spoke to The Jerusalem Post last week.
The company’s machine learning-based tool applies advanced algorithms to Maccabi’s existing electronic patient data to identify unvaccinated individuals at highest risk of developing serious flu-related complications. These could include elderly people, those with uncontrolled chronic diseases or respiratory diseases, long-term smokers, those that are immunodeficient or have diabetes, or children, said Dr. Jeremy Orr, CEO of EarlySign.
The EarlySign investigational algorithm flags these individuals, who are then contacted by their healthcare providers and encouraged to come into the clinic and be vaccinated. Patients can be contacted by phone, text message or even snail mail, depending on their communication preferences and the methods offered by their clinics.
The program is especially important this year, when many people have already died from the flu in Israel, and the virus is expected to take an exceptionally heavier toll than usual, Orr said.
“According to the World Health Organization, flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people globally every year,” said Prof. Varda Shalev, director of the KSM Kahn-Sagol-Maccabi Research and Innovation Institute, founded by Maccabi Healthcare Services. “Due to the late arrival of influenza vaccines in Israel this year, the time we have to vaccinate patients this flu season – especially those at high risk for developing flu-related complications – is much shorter than usual. H1N1 flu could take a heavier toll this season, particularly on people at high risk for flu complications.”
EarlySign works with the routine data collected and stored in patient’s electronic health records. In this joint study with Maccabi, the company’s advanced algorithm is being applied to the records of approximately 2.3 million patients in five regional centers and hundreds of branches and clinics throughout the country.
Orr said the goal is simple: Improve the rate of influenza vaccination.
“The flu is a preventable disease,” he said. “Any effort to get people vaccinated has major dividends.”
With the study only just beginning, EarlySign cannot report on the effectiveness of the program, Orr said. They could already see its value in terms of being able to prioritize those people who should receive the flu vaccine when there is a shortage, as the company has just experienced. However, he said, in about six months, they hope to better be able to analyze the results of the collaboration.
A separate study is also being carried out in the United States in conjunction with Kaiser Permanente.
This is not the first time that EarlySign and Maccabi have collaborated. They began working together in 2016 to identify individuals at high risk of colorectal cancer who are noncompliant with screening guidelines.
Orr said the company knows of at least 10 patients who were identified as having cancer likely due to the algorithm.
“This signifies another important step towards our ultimate goal: to help improve care and long-term survival rates of people at greatest risk through early identification and intervention,” he said.
Orr noted that “the physician-patient relationship is sacred, and clinical judgment will never be replaced by a computer.”
But AI-augmented care is the future, he said. “The future looks like humane care – but augmented with insights that come from AI,” Orr said.
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