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Since the end of 2019, COVID-19 has undeniably disrupted the modern world and its economy. With the exponential rise in the number of lives affected and claimed by the coronavirus, healthcare practices have been scrutinized with the loopholes becoming transparent.

In our 3rd WaiTALK, Women in AI Ireland has attempted to address the question of how AI can be leveraged to boost the healthcare systems and mitigate healthcare -related logistics issues. What should our healthcare system look like after the pandemic? The renowned speakers of “Future of Healthcare” Alison Darcy, CEO and Founder of Woebot Labs Inc, Professor Barry O’Sullivan, MRIA, Insight Centre for Data Analytics & Confirm Centre director, and professor at University College Cork, and Aoife Sexton, Chief Privacy Officer and Chief of Product Innovation at Trūata tackled three major topics:

  • Chat-bots for mental health

  • Patient flow optimization before and after COVID-19 pandemic

  • Privacy implications in the COVID-19 pandemic

On Tuesday 2nd June, 2020, with the support of the Confirm Centre for Smart Manufacturing and Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Women in AI Ireland successfully hosted “Future of Healthcare” online WaiTALK. Conducted by WAI Ambassador Alessandra Sala, this virtual WaiTALK also marked the official launch of WAI Cork chapter led by Dr. Begum Genc, post-doctoral researcher at University College Cork.

More than 60 participants from diverse backgrounds; leaders, executives, regulators, lecturers, data and health professionals, STEM students and AI enthusiasts, tuned in to listen to the interactive panel of notable experts in the AI industry and Healthcare. The interactive panel was moderated by Dr. Begum Genc.

Chatbots for mental health

Since 2016 Ireland has been a country with one of the highest rates of mental health illness in Europe and across the world. Research shows that mental health treatment is the most expensive treatment in the USA and only around 60% of people are comfortable to talk face-to-face with therapists. The solution? Digital conversational AI agents, trained to provide first-aid mental therapies.

Alison Darcy, CEO and Founder of Woebot Labs Inc introduced Chat-bots for Mental Health and described how apps with built-in AI technologies, such as Woebot, can assist in supporting mental health fitness and complement therapeutic practices. Woebot is a digital conversational agent which is designed by computer scientists and psychologists for personalised user experiences. The chatbot uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and engages with the user via pre-written scenarios. Alison states that with COVID19, there is a significant increase in the number of people experiencing anxiety and loneliness.

To this end, some people feel more comfortable about talking to a digital agent about these problems. Considering the ethical issues, she further explains some of the safeguards for designing chatbots that ensure there is no emotional connection with the user and the AI agent. She said, imagine at 3AM, you need mental support but you would feel hesitant to call your therapist. In this scenario, the advantage of using Woebot is that it’s availability is 24x7 and you don’t have to worry about waking up a robot at 3AM. Alison further stated that implementing chatbots for mental health does not intend to and will not replace human therapists. Chatbots would rather complement and support a psychologist or a therapist’s job in scenarios when they are unavailable.

Patient Flow Optimization

COVID-19 most certainly exposed the flaws of the current patient flow practices in hospitals. We have seen global calls for immediate technological solutions for capacity planning and pandemic management.

Professor Barry O’Sullivan, MRIA, Insight Centre for Data Analytics & Confirm Centre director, and professor at University College Cork presented Patient flow optimization before/after COVID-19 pandemic where he described the problem of patient flow as a medical workflow optimization problem. Before the pandemic, Irish hospitals were already working at nearly full capacity. Patient flow was one of the key factors for patient experience and treatment quality maintenance.

Barry O’Sullivan is working to improve different healthcare pathways and workflows using the predictive power of AI and technology. Professor O’Sullivan, who is also a member of the Health Research Consent Declaration Committee, has also expressed the importance of explainability in AI, and provided a variety of international AI challenges in relation to COVID-19 and other issues in healthcare.

Irish WAI Ambassador Alessandra Sala and WAI Cork lead Begum Genc discussing healthcare privacy and AI-assisted mental health applications with Aoife Sexton from Truata (top left) and Alison Darcy, Woebot Labs Inc (top right).

Privacy implications during COVID-19

AI and Machine Learning might sound incredible technologies but there is a certain hesitation when consumers think about their personal data being tracked, collected and used. Aoife Sexton, Chief Privacy Officer and Chief of Product Innovation at Trūata gave a talk on Privacy implications in the COVID-19 pandemic providing the audience with examples from industry practice accompanied by privacy laws in Ireland. She emphasized that Ireland has a trust foundation and that trust must be maintained during COVID-19. She stated that, “emergency is not a time to set out your privacy”.

With a background in Law and her years of industry experience, Aoife Sexton has helped companies who needed legal support to ensure compliance and data governance. With the new data protection laws and GDPR, Trūata’s service is to make data anonymized, that is, free of GDPR concerns and ready to perform analytics on. She highlights the utilization of big data for analytics and the process of sharing data among researchers, organisations, and the government is critical during moments of emergencies like COVID-19.

With the new laws coming into practice, she mentioned that we can no longer collect data without consent, without purpose and we cannot store them forever. The aim is to innovate and derive valuable insights from data while respecting the elements of data-privacy of clients and consumers. Being GDPR compliant ensures ethical usage of data and consequently establishes confidence and trust in consumers.

WAI Giveaway contest

As the final remarks, Begum Genc released the first WAI giveaway contest for the actively engaged attendees of the event. 1st prize, 1x MLOps Production & Engineering World 2020 was won by Karen Smetana, and the following 10 participants received books Human Compatible, Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control, by Stuart J. Russell (2019) and Invisible Women, Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez (2019): Emma Delemere, Tshepi Mpunzi, Stephanie Skeffington, Frida Arrey, Saritha Unnkrishnan, Joan O’Brien, Diarmuid Buckley, Luca Anselma, Aurelie Richer, and Shahidul Hoque.

Women in AI Ireland together with Confirm Centre for Smart Manufacturing say congratulations to our winners!



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