Facebook uses AI to predict if COVID-19 patients will need more care

Using X-ray images, the three AI models Facebook developed could help hospitals decide how to allot resources as COVID-19 cases rise.

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Queenie Wong
2 min read

Facebook has been working on AI research aimed at helping the health care industry battle COVID-19.

Image by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Facebook is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to help doctors predict whether they will need more resources, such as extra oxygen to care for COVID-19 patients in hospitals.

The social network said Friday it developed two AI models, one based on a single chest X-ray, and another from a series X-rays, that could help forecast if a patient infected by the coronavirus is likely to get worse. A third model predicts the amount of extra oxygen a COVID-19 patient might need. Facebook's AI models generally did a better job than a human when it came to forecasting up to four days in advance if a patient will need more intensive care resources.

"These predictions could help doctors avoid sending at-risk patients home too soon, and help hospitals better predict demand for supplemental oxygen and other limited resources," Facebook employees said in a blog post.

Partnering with with New York University Langone Health's Predictive Analytics Unit and Department of Radiology, Facebook's AI research is another example of how tech companies are trying to help the health industry battle COVID-19. Some people infected by the novel coronavirus have trouble breathing or experience shortness of breath. Hospitals in some areas, including Los Angeles, are reportedly running low on oxygen needed to help COVID-19 patients. 

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Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases continue to climb in the US as essential workers and older adults get vaccinated. Since January 2020, coronavirus cases topped roughly 30 million in the US, according to data on Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 383,300 people have died from the respiratory illness caused by the virus.

Facebook's models rely on a technique in which AI learns on its own rather than depending on data labelled by humans, which can be a time-consuming process. The social network and NYU are publishing their research and open sourcing the AI models.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.