New Canadian app working to 'cut through the information clutter' of COVID-19

COVID AIKnowledgeEnable uses artificial intelligence to search multiple peer-reviewed medical data sources in combination with collective insights of health-care professionals to deliver relevant findings. (Courtesy Real Time Medical)

A new app is looking to help health-care professionals and the public make better-informed decisions about COVID-19 for their patients, their families and themselves by collecting peer-reviewed scientific papers and hosting them in one place.

The new app, called COVID AIKnowledgeEnable (COVID KE), uses artificial intelligence to search multiple peer-reviewed medical data sources in combination with collective insights of health-care professionals to deliver the most relevant findings and advice to users.

The application, created by Canadian medical software developer Real Time Medical (RTM), also features confidence ratings and commentary from doctors to further assist users in determining which articles are the most helpful for them.

"It really is a tool that attempts to combine both artificial intelligence and collective intelligence in real time on a single integrated platform to help users engage in research and education by helping them locate trustworthy articles," RTM CEO and co-founder Ian Maynard told CTVNews.ca.

Maynard explained in a phone interview last week that COVID KE only uses trusted peer-reviewed sources including The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and others, along with the latest federal health guidelines for Canada to help "users cut through the information clutter associated with COVID."

The app is the first of its kind in the world to combine the power of artificial intelligence with the collective knowledge of experts to sort through misinformation, according to the company.

"Under normal conditions, there are hundreds of new findings published in any given medical discipline every day. During a pandemic you can multiply that by a factor of 10," Maynard said.

The European Congress of Radiology reported in a keynote address in mid-July that of the 25,000 articles that emerged in various online portals and medical journals about COVID-19 at that time, filtering revealed that 48 were meta-analyses that combined the results of multiple studies and only 25 were clinical trials.

Maynard said this underscores the challenge of finding credible health information amid the pandemic.

"There seems to be a lot of confusion, even amongst medical professionals about the all of the information coming out on COVID. So with the app, users can get direct information along with doctor confidence ratings about the particular study so they can engage in research and educate themselves to help make better decisions," Maynard said.

AIKnowledgeEnable has been avaible to health-care practitioners to research any medical condition for the last two years, but the pandemic has since prompted RTM to expand the app to the public with a focus on COVID-19 information.

"Rather than the user just searching independent data sources themselves or just doing a general Google search, the app is really only targeting peer-reviewed data so that users can have that additional confidence that they're getting information from trusted sources," Maynard said.

The app has two different interfaces for health-care workers and for the public.

While the user experience is the same for both versions, only accredited licensed health-care professionals such as infectious disease specialists, epidemiologist and radiologists who are authenticated by the app are allowed to input ratings or commentary on publications.

Maynard said the goal with only having medical professionals comment and rate peer-reviewed articles is to facilitate a "community of interaction" that the public then has insight into.

"It's not just the article but it's also what our doctors around the world are saying about this and how users can then use that in their day to day life as we all seek to navigate this new normal," Maynard said.

The app is available for use on iPhone, Android and desktop and is downloadable worldwide. Public users can access the app for a monthly subscription fee of US$1.99 ($2.59 CAD) while clinicians can access it for US$2.99 ($3.90 CAD) a month.

While the app was initially developed for research on any medical condition, Maynard said its focus has shifted to COVID-19 in a move to assist people as they safely transition back to work and school.

"Now more than ever the public needs to have a source of information that can help them make decisions about their daily lives as we enter this new world," Maynard said. "Decisions do have to be made as we go about our lives, and navigate both the information that surrounds us, as well as the environment that surrounds us."

RTM chairman and co-founder Dr. David Koff told CTVNews.ca that one of the greatest threats the public faces amid the pandemic is misinformation.

"I don't think we have seen such a major public health crisis before with so much confusion, and also so much political interference in health messages," Koff said in a phone interview on Thursday.

"The best example we had was all the things about hydroxychloroquine and we had so much political messaging that people at the end of the day got very confused about whether or not to take it."

By only sourcing peer-reviewed medical articles, Koff said COVID AIKnowledgeEnable cuts through that confusion. But despite having trusted medical sources at their fingertips, Koff said the app does not replace the advice of people’s doctors when they become ill.

"We don't want to replace medical consultation. People they still have to talk to their medical physician because each case is different. You cannot cater to all even if you have the best information," Koff said.

"What works for you may not work for someone else so you have to still go to your doctor if you are sick."

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