Singapore and Manila – May 13, 2020 12:00PM
ANC, a PH news channel, interviewed Representative Loren Legarda of PH’s Antique province with regards to their efforts in combating Covid-19. This was also followed by an interview with Lifetrack’s COO, Carl Ng, to provide further details on how the Antique partnership took place and how more partners can potentially maximize the company’s technology for free in the fight against Covid-19. Below is a transcript of the conversation.
LIFETRACK’S SOLUTION AS A POTENTIAL WAY OF TRACKING COVID
Q. So Carl, Congressman Loren Legarda talked so highly about Lifetrack. Talk to us now how the system works and how AI can be a potential way of tracking Covid-19.
A. Lifetrack is a health technology company, as you shared. We were actually founded in the Philippines and we’ve now expanded outside of the Philippines. We have customers in a dozen other countries around the world. The mission behind Lifetrack is very simple. We’re solving the problem of affordable access to medical imaging because two-thirds of the world can’t currently avail of it. As we can see with Covid and other diseases like tuberculosis or cancer, medical imaging or diagnostic imaging, basically X-rays or CTs, is a critical component in how we diagnose and treat patients in modern medicine.
The challenge in the Philippines, as Representative Legarda mentioned, is there’s a scarcity of trained medical professionals and that includes radiologists. In the Philippines, there are only one thousand radiologists for one hundred million people. What we do with Lifetrack is our technology enables these radiologists to diagnose more people, reach more patients, and to do it more efficiently with decision support and sometimes with AI tools as well.
Currently, in the Philippines, we work with some large healthcare providers such as the Family Doc clinic chain of the Ayala group and we also work with several hospitals outside of Metro Manila. Our key differentiating factor here is that we don’t require on site IT equipment. We work on consumer grade hardware. Your laptop or your PC is enough for us to be able to run our technology, which is how we were able to remotely deploy our solution in Antique’s hospital despite the lockdown.
Q. Are there other provinces who have reached out to Lifetrack with regards to your system and trying to apply and form a partnership during this time?
A. We are speaking to a few more public hospitals, which we haven’t finalized yet. Thankfully, as Representative Legarda has mentioned, Antique is very forward-thinking and even before the lockdown we already started speaking to them.
Before the lockdown in Metro Manila, we saw the problem of Covid escalating worldwide. We saw that outside molecular testing, in countries like China, they were already using CT scans as a form of early screening and continued diagnosis of Covid patients. We also saw that in the Philippines and other countries, there simply wasn’t enough information on how to do CT diagnosis for Covid yet.
We started a project which is a global repository for Covid-19 positive chest CT scans to allow radiologists and researchers to study what a CT scan with Covid looks like, to train themselves and to train their peers so that they can participate in the fight against Covid.
MORE ON USE OF CT FOR COVID DIAGNOSIS
Q. So right now Lifetrack is being used for early diagnosis of Covid-19. Are you improving the system to make it instead of just early diagnosing, it can already diagnose so that aside from the mass testing kits, there’s also another option for the government to apply?
A. I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive. I think we need to think about it as we have a full range of testing options available. Molecular testing is very important but if you look at the literature and what our frontliners are saying, the RT-PCR test can still turn out false negatives.This is something that the DOH, in its new classifications, acknowledges. If you look at the way that they define a probable case, a probable case is someone where the RT-PCR results are inconclusive. Your audience is probably asking, if the results are inconclusive, why are they still considered as a probable Covid case? That’s because even if the RT-PCR results turn out to be negative, they might be a false negative, which means that they still present with symptoms and if you look at the CT, you will see the hallmark symptoms of Covid on their lower respiratory tract. The reason for this is not because the RT-PCR tests are defective but because there are a lot of human and medical factors involved in molecular testing. For example, when you put down the deep nasal swab in someone’s upper respiratory tract, the patient might move their head and you don’t get a good sample, and so it turns out negative. On the medical side, maybe the upper respiratory tract, which is your nose, isn’t the site of the Covid infection. There have been papers that are published now on Nature, which is a respected (medicine) journal, which shows that there are two sites of infection for Covid, the upper respiratory tract and the lower respiratory tract. Sometimes Covid is present in the lower respiratory tract and not present in the upper respiratory tract. In that case, RT-PCR is not effective but you can see it on the CT scan and you can make an educated diagnosis or weigh the probabilities, especially if the patient has symptoms and decide that maybe this person needs to be isolated, treated, and monitored for further signs of a Covid infection. We’re also coming out with antibody testing and the world is figuring out that this is a new disease. There’s not one method that you can use to diagnose Covid and you need to use everything available in modern medicine in order to fight it.
COST OF AVAILING LIFETRACK’S SOLUTION
Q. Right now let’s go technical. How much would that cost? You said that one of the things that Lifetrack prides itself on is its affordable access to people. How much does it cost and how long will the results take?
A. The way we’re working with Antique is that we’re providing it free of charge for the duration of the Covid outbreak because it’s a public health emergency and we want to do our part in order to combat it. Since we started speaking to Antique, we deployed it last week and it’s been up and running over the course of Holy Week already. From my understanding, their radiologist who is actually based in Romblon and was unable to travel to Antique, is now able to access the CT scans remotely and provide diagnosis to patients even when she is still based in Romblon because of the lockdown.