Dr. Yu-Chuan Li on post-pandemic era: the application of AI in precision diagnosis and treatment

Jul 27, 2020

07-27-2020 | GASE

While some countries are now facing the second wave of COVID-19, many are heading into the post-pandemic era by lifting the lockdown restrictions. Dr. Yu-Chuan Li, the Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Institute of Biomedical Informatics of Taipei Medical University believes that AI medicine can be “the rapidest test of the rapid-test”, before effective medicine and vaccine being introduced. AI technology allows medical workers to identify and quarantine high-risk infectious group at early stage, and helps reduce the fear and anxiety of society caused by the pandemic.

D. Li, as an expertise in AI medicine with more than 30 years of experience in the field, has been dedicated in facilitating international cooperation in R&D of medical technology. Last year, International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) removed China from the members list and elected Dr. Li to be the President of IMIA from 2021 to 2023. Meanwhile, Taiwan has also won the opportunity to hold the upcoming IMIA biennial gathering, MedInfo 2023, which shows that Taiwan’s strength in medicine has been recognized by the world.

Dr. Li gave us an insight of the development of AI medicine, and explained how Taiwan can strengthen diplomatic ties through the sharing of epidemic prevention knowledge in the post-pandemic era!

From a photo of patient’s skin condition to “Taiwan can Help” 

As the development of COVID-19 worsened in April, Dr. Yu-Chuan Li and Dr. Po-Yu Shih from Laser Cosmetic Center of Taipei Municipal Wan Fang Hospital initiated the “TWcanhelp International Dermatologist Charitable Project,” which uses Facebook as the main platform to provide the public with instant and professional online consultation for free.

Dr. Li stated that this idea originated from one of Dr. Shih’s patient’s boyfriend who works at the senior home in Seattle (where the first cluster infection happened in the US). He was tested positive for COVID-19 and was under home isolation, during which he had a skin condition, but was unable to visit the hospital. He sent a photo to Dr. Shih to seek help. Since then, Dr. Li and Dr. Shih started to plan the “TWcanhelp International Dermatologist Charitable Project” and have successfully attracted more than 50 dermatologists to join within two days.

Dr. Li pointed out that the number of outpatient visits has decreased around 30% since the outbreak. Dermatology is one of the few branches of medicine that can be diagnosed through images, which makes the online consulting platform practicable. From the research perspective, this platform can also help researchers understand the possible skin complications of coronavirus. Although Taiwan is not part of the World Health Organization (WHO), the country is supporting the world’s public health through various channels.

AI to treat “obscure disease”: precise diagnosis and risk management

As the hot weather marks the start of summer time, the world has accumulated more than ten million coronavirus cases. Dr. Li quoted Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine), an ancient Chinese medical text, that “the supreme healer cures the illness that is still obscure, the good healer cures the illness that is about to break out, the least able tries to cure fully manifested illness.” He analyzed that the traditional Western medicine tends to cure fully manifested illness, but AI medicine can use big data to predict diseases before the outbreak and even achieve the prevention treatment of a disease!

Dr. Li stressed that “the challenge every country is facing during the pandemic is the collapse of the medical system! The hospital could not manage the patients crowd in the short period, which resulted in the problems of nosocomial infection and the anxiety of society.” To solve the problems, AI technology can be used in collecting database of confirmed cases and research articles around the world, and predicting infectious model to find the high-risk community and provide treatment as well as clinical management support.

Meanwhile, Dr. Li also pointed out that how to best utilize technology on epidemic prevention is important, especially before the efficient medicine and vaccine being introduced. Taiwan has a strong and affordable healthcare industry with the comprehensive database from the national health insurance system established in 1995, which provides the country a solid foundation to develop AI medicine. 

Extraordinary epidemic prevention makes Taiwan recognized by the world

Taiwan has gained international praises on the superior epidemic prevention during the outbreak. Dr. Li said that the coronavirus allows Taiwan to be recognized by the world. With the upcoming MedInfo 2023 being held in Taiwan, Dr. Li wished that “Taiwan can continue its achievement of 2020, and keep gaining international reputation and economy power in the future!”

Taiwan is still excluded from the WHO due to international political conditions. However, Dr. Li believes that global communication does not merely rely on international organizations anymore. With the development of internet and social media, it is efficient to exchange accurate information through online platform. For instance, the WHO requested Chinese government to release the genome sequence of the virus. Although the government blocked the news, a Chinese scholar still published the gene sequence on the online platform through a foreign scholar. Dr. Li believes that despite all the barriers, Taiwan still has promising future in the international public health community as long as the country can make the best of the Internet and grasp every collaboration opportunity ahead.