The Global Health Innovators Seminar – Dr. James M Wilson - A quick recap of ep #17
This blog is the high-level summary of the talk given by Dr. James M Wilson, CEO and Founder of M2 Medical Intelligence, Inc. at the PathCheck DICE Global Health Innovators seminar. Check out https://dice.pathcheck.org/talks.html to know more about previous talks.
This episode focused on the anticipation, detection, and warning of infectious disease crises. In particular, Dr. Wilson discussed his work on assessing and communicating the risk of diseases – COVID-19, Ebola, Lyme, Swine flu, and more.
The talk primarily focused on 3 parts, initially understanding how reliable patterns can be used to detect a global crisis, secondly the importance and complexities of communicating risk, and finally, the steps that the team took to detect, assess and track the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In fact, M2 Intelligence (Dr. Wilson’s company) was one of the first organizations to share intel with clients about COVID-19! Informed by the warning intelligence that they gathered from around the world, the team set up a hospital surveillance system in 10 days to help the state governments with insight and foresight into the pandemic!
Years before the COVID-19 pandemic, the team used to take a more technical approach while communicating risk with the public. However, this made sharing predictions a challenge, since terms like Coccidioides (a fungal infection) were difficult for the layperson to understand. Consequently, the team decided to shift gears and leverage closed physician social networks. This was a game-changer as they could now bridge forecasting with a market pulse signal. For instance, if a high number of Lyme cases were expected, the team would share these findings with physicians. The physicians would then keep an eye out for signs of the disease in patients and order the required tests if they suspected it. This is a connection point with the commercial part of the diagnostics industry.
Dr. Wilson also discussed how these case studies provided significant pre-emptive, anticipatory, and predictive intel that helped them anticipate what we would see with COVID-19. Check out the talk to learn more about the amazing work done by Dr. Wilson and the team!
Why hasn’t the past informed and helped us be prepared for COVID-19?
We do not have a sustainable will that transcends presidential administrations. The public should ask why we don’t have a transparent review of warning processes so that we can review what worked, what didn’t capture the lessons learned, and train the next generation of analysts. By establishing a sustainable construct, we would have that institutional memory. We need to look at the big picture and ask “why can’t we sustain the effort?”. When we can answer that question, then we’re going to make progress!
What worries you about the next disease outbreak?
With respect to social media, there are still many challenges about how we communicate, who is given the microphone and who isn’t, and how we engender trust with the public. Social media is about sensationalism, hype, and hysteria. For us, there is danger in that. You can blow the supply chain, trigger panic buying of critical supplies, and create fear among first responders. We need a different way of providing warnings and sharing information.
What about the role of fatigue in terms of this post-pandemic memory loss that seems to be a cycle for pandemics now?
We’re coming to a point where we accept a new baseline disease known as COVID-19. Of course, it is still deadly and you should get vaccinated. As far as the boom-bust cycle, some of the lessons that we glean during these crises are applicable to daily medicine. For instance, we used to only test patients who were hospitalized with the flu using the hospital lab. Now, we can just pull out a kit, swab the patient's nose and determine whether they have flu A or flu B in a matter of 5 minutes. That’s amazing! It has also completely changed our understanding of the disease baselines.
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