Are the robots taking over? The role of machine learning and AI in tackling infectious diseases

I attended a brilliant seminar at Imperial College last week on the role of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) in infectious management, and to a lesser extent, infection prevention and control. There’s so much potential for this exciting technology to revolutionise the way we identify, treat, and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. But, there’s also some risks – some are already asking whether the robots are taking over, and whether that is an entirely good thing!

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AMR strategy in the UK: IPC is high on the agenda (hooray)

The Department of Health have published a new 5 year National Action Plan to combat AMR (2019-2024) to follow on from the 2013-2018 edition. IPC and antimicrobial stewardship are high on the agenda – but we have a long way to go if we are to fulfil the 20 year vision for AMR: ‘By 2040, our vision is of a world in which antimicrobial resistance is effectively contained, controlled and mitigated.’

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Keeping hospitals clean and safe without breaking the bank

A paper has just been published in ARIC as the first academic output of the Healthcare Cleaning Forum. I blogged earlier this year to relate the inaugural Healthcare Cleaning forum, and this paper expands on the key themes: establishing environmental hygiene as a patient safety initiative, providing an overview of the importance of environmental hygiene in healthcare, exploring the human factors driving the standards of environmental hygiene along with the need for effective education, the possibilities and challenges of automation, and the cost and value of environmental hygiene.

One of the key aims of the forum is to be a champion for environmental hygiene professionals. There’s a famous story of when president JFK visited NASA and asked a janitor who was mopping the floor what they were doing. The answer was simple and profound: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” If you asked somebody working in environmental hygiene in your hospital what they were doing, would the response be: “I’m helping to maximise patient safety and prevent healthcare-associated infection.” Probably not. We need to champion the cause of environmental hygiene professionals, who lack professional status, are often not paid enough, and often have limited options for career progression.

Is environmental a treasured investment priority in hospitals?

Related to this is our perception of the cost and value of environmental hygiene in hospitals. Is our level of investment appropriate given the risks associated with inadequate environmental hygiene in hospitals? Would we really find highly valued cleaning and disinfection materials in the metaphorical safe of a hospital manager (see the cartoon above)? Probably not! We need work towards better evidence to understand the value of environmental hygiene in hospitals in the context of other investment priorities.

Do single rooms prevent HCAI? This suggest suggests YES for norovirus, but no for C. difficile infection and E. coli BSI

There are pros and cons of increasing the proportion of single rooms. One of the commonly-cited pros is a reduction in HCAI. A recent UK study provides some evidence that C. difficlie infection, and MSSA /  E. coli BSIs are not reduced by a move to a hospital with more single rooms, but that norovirus control is more effective when you have more single rooms.

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