How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes
Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.
Stephen Johnson is a St. Louis-based writer whose work has been published by outlets including PBS Digital Studios, HuffPost, MSN, U.S. News & World Report, Eleven Magazine and The Missourian.
- The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
- Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
One of the most devastating aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been unpredictability. The nation's health systems—especially those in hard-hit areas like New York City—have had to adapt to sudden surges of COVID-19 cases, all while dealing with limited resources, existing patients, and a novel virus that's still not fully understood.
But what if health systems were able to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks before they occur? Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state, recently deployed a predictive tool that does just that.
Northwell Health's surveillance dashboard is able to predict COVID-19 hospitalizations by using insights from machine learning. In March, Northwell Health's Customer Insights Group developed an algorithm that's been mining data from online traffic to the Northwell.edu website, which has received more than 20 million hits since March.
The algorithm collects data through 15 different indicators, each of which reflects the online behavior of the website's visitors. For example, the tool analyzes metrics such as the length of time users spend on certain pages, searches for emergency department wait times, and specific symptoms users search for. Combined, this information translates into something like the "public mood" of the website on any given day.
Since Northwell Health began using the predictive tool in September, it's predicted COVID-19 hospitalizations with an accuracy of about 80 percent.
To understand how this mood relates to future COVID-19 cases, Northwell Health began comparing its data with a timeline of COVID-19 hospitalizations across 23 hospitals and nearly 800 outpatient facilities and in the metro New York area. This enabled the Customer Insights Group to see patterns of online activity that precede future increases or decreases in hospitalizations.
Since Northwell Health began using the predictive tool in September, it's predicted COVID-19 hospitalizations with an accuracy of about 80 percent.
"This is really the first tool that I've been exposed to that gives me a sort of guestimate of what two weeks from now may look like," said Dr. Eric Cruzen, chief medical informatics officer of Northwell's emergency medicine services and chair of the emergency department at Lenox Health Greenwich Village in Manhattan.
"Even if the data can provide an idea of whether to expect an increase, decrease, or stasis, that's valuable. Because every day we're working to estimate what tomorrow's going to bring. Any tool that's going to shed light on that is a good tool in my book."
The value of forecasting
Northwell emergency departments use the dashboard to monitor in real time.
Credit: Northwell Health
One unique benefit of forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations is that it allows health systems to better prepare, manage and allocate resources. For example, if the tool forecasted a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in two weeks, Northwell Health could begin:
- Making space for an influx of patients
- Moving personal protective equipment to where it's most needed
- Strategically allocating staff during the predicted surge
- Increasing the number of tests offered to asymptomatic patients
The health-care field is increasingly using machine learning. It's already helping doctors develop personalized care plans for diabetes patients, improving cancer screening techniques, and enabling mental health professionals to better predict which patients are at elevated risk of suicide, to name a few applications.
Health systems around the world have already begun exploring how machine learning can help battle the pandemic, including better COVID-19 screening, diagnosis, contact tracing, and drug and vaccine development.
Cruzen said these kinds of tools represent a shift in how health systems can tackle a wide variety of problems.
"Health care has always used the past to predict the future, but not in this mathematical way," Cruzen said. "I think [Northwell Health's new predictive tool] really is a great first example of how we should be attacking a lot of things as we go forward."
Making machine-learning tools openly accessible
Northwell Health has made its predictive tool available for free to any health system that wishes to utilize it.
"COVID is everybody's problem, and I think developing tools that can be used to help others is sort of why people go into health care," Dr. Cruzen said. "It was really consistent with our mission."
Open collaboration is something the world's governments and health systems should be striving for during the pandemic, said Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's president and CEO.
"Whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it and they continue to make it better," Dowling said. "As a country, we lack data. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been and should be now working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England and others to figure out how to develop a health surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur."
In all, Northwell Health has treated more than 112,000 COVID patients. During the pandemic, Dowling said he's seen an outpouring of goodwill, collaboration, and sacrifice from the community and the tens of thousands of staff who work across Northwell.
"COVID has changed our perspective on everything—and not just those of us in health care, because it has disrupted everybody's life," Dowling said. "It has demonstrated the value of community, how we help one another."
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
People often make a killing in stocks, but what else do people buy in hopes of selling for a fortune?
- Outside of stocks and bonds, some people make money investing in collectibles and make a fair amount on them.
- One stamp even sold for a billion times its face value.
- The extreme dependence on future collectability limits the potential of most of these opportunities.
Pokémon Cards<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/hVUmTaSoB5Y" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> For those who weren't content to catch them all in a video game came a trading card game where you could collect them all. Some classic cards have gained tremendous stature among collectors and Pokéfanatics and sell for extremely high prices. </p><p> An older card featuring Charizard, a fire breathing dragon, regularly sells for thousands <a href="https://www.lifesuccessfully.com/gaming-articles/the-most-wanted-pokemon-cards-charizard#/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online</a>. Given that the card could be purchased for a couple of dollars in 1999, this is quite the return. A particular pack of the cards, which cost $5 in 2003, now sells for $650, one hundred and thirty times the original asking <a href="https://adamrybko.medium.com/stocks-or-pokemon-cards-an-introduction-to-alternative-investing-32fe499083c4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">price</a>. </p><p> Of course, not every card will fetch these high prices. Buying cards as an investment is tricky. You have to essentially guess at which cards will be considered highly valuable at a later date and will be unable to collect any dividend before selling them.</p><p> Furthermore, you have to presume that people will be collecting the cards years after buying them. While Pokémon has remained popular, it is a bit of an outlier in terms of enduring success.</p>
Shoes<p> People from all walks of life, from skateboarders to the First Lady of the <a href="https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/imelda-marcos-shoes-mixed-legacy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines</a>, enjoy collecting shoes. An entire subculture exists for people interested in collecting sneakers, and some people make quite a profit in it.</p><p> The Nike SB Dunk Low Reese Forbes Denims, priced initially at $65 in 2002, are commonly valued in the thousands of dollars now. The Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro High x Off White "Chicago" shoe sold for $190 a mere four years ago, but now sells for $4000 a <a href="https://sixfiguresneakerhead.com/sneaker-model-return-alternative-investment-stock-x-reseller/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pair</a>. </p><p> A <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sneakers-good-investment_n_5bd1f5ebe4b0d38b588143ee?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAALOu0F9zs5DBHHOIjMgHOZR6K88W3rZkyD3ftBMz2nzlHfoxD4MS2Iz1vF3H-a4_xzOWIIrsJyv76Gj6xwUXaRIRdjq7M2m7I6-lxihWIcEfs7F9PgOwnx82JXPfXmWL7-RQlNUufOyvd8V6TCzMEYrEjzMXVU77IWk9MjOEtsln" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Huffington Post</a> article points out that most of these shoes offered better returns than gold over the same period. The same article quotes YouTube personality <a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/mrFOAMERSIMPSON" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mr. Foamer Simpson</a> and his explanation of the difficulties of making money on shoes:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"> "There's a guessing game or element of unpredictability that makes it exciting for some collectors. With sneakers, you kind of never know. Sure, you know what sneakers are more limited or which ones were harder to get, but even with that, it fluctuates a lot. A sneaker that was very valuable two years ago might all of a sudden crash and no longer be valuable."</p>
Toys of all kinds<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0uYnj1i1EQw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> If there's one thing everybody loves, it's what they loved when they were children. That often translates into old and rare toys fetching insane prices at auction.</p><p> Beanie Babies, those little stuffed animals from the 90s, once sold at a price of thousands of dollars <a href="https://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2015/03/02/How-Great-Beanie-Baby-Bubble-Went-Bust" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online</a>, not bad considering they sold for $5. Lego sets, particularly those featuring well-known franchises like Star Wars, can sell for hundreds of dollars <a href="https://finance.yahoo.com/news/20-geeky-collectibles-could-millions-201624881.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online</a>. </p><p> As with Pokémon cards, the success stories are dependent on what people are interested in collecting long after most people forgot the toy existed.<strong> </strong>While some collectors have ideas on how to gauge what might or might not end up being valuable later, there seems to be a considerable amount of luck involved.</p>
Stamps<p> The hobby of kings has occasionally made some people as rich as one, with rare stamps and extensive collections fetching high prices at auction.</p><p> One of the famous "Inverted Jenny," stamps, a rare misprint showing an upside-down airplane, sold for $1,593,000 at <a href="https://www.linns.com/news/us-stamps-postal-history/2018/november/nov-15-jenny-invert-sale-record.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">auction</a>. The most valuable stamp in the world, the British Guiana 1c magenta, last sold for $9,480,000, a billion times its face <a href="http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/2014/magenta-n09154.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">value</a>. For those interested in a shorter-term investment, the USA Forever stamp has gained a face value of 75% since its introduction and can still be used to send a letter.</p>
Coins<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUxNjY2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjUwNzk3OX0.HMBXb1mbiL0D-JbFcD7pBWNZ8TcOB4mzcJ6ri2aCNOg/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1%2C0%2C1&height=700" id="41fe2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="57f1ae74688caf29e150c4ce2f7c5b41" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
- Charles Darwin speculated that wingless insects thrived on windy islands so they wouldn't be blown off the land.
- While the reasoning was slightly faulty, researchers have now proved Darwin's 165-year-old "wind hypothesis."
- This finding is yet another example of how environments shape the animals that inhabit them.
Photo: Christian / Adobe Stock<p>Monash researchers looked at three decades of data on various insect species living in Antarctica and 28 Southern Ocean islands—including Svalbard, Jan Mayen, Ellef Ringnes, Bathurst, and St. Matthew—and discovered a trend: wind (as well as low air pressure and freezing temperatures) made flight nearly impossible to resident insects. They simply didn't have the energetic resources needed to take to the sky. Better to crawl around and scavenge.</p><p>Darwin wasn't completely right. He thought the evolutionary adaptations were due purely to wind throwing insects off the island. But nutrition matters too. Flight consumes a ton of energy. The windier it is, the harder insects have to work. Battling a gale requires an inordinate amount of calories. As the team writes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Strong winds can also inhibit normal insect flight activity, thereby increasing the energetic costs of flying or maintaining flight structures. This energy trade-off is more complex than Darwin's single-step displacement mechanism because it requires genetic linkage between traits associated with flight ability, flight propensity, and fecundity or survival." </p><p>Still, you have to hand it to the man. During a time when most humans assumed animals were all the result of metaphysical tinkering, Darwin gazed out into nature and connected the dots. His mind has inspired over a century-and-a-half of scientific progress as we continue to build on—and, as this study shows, prove—his theories. </p><p>Darwin knew that every animal is the product of its environment, and therefore must respect both its boons and its boundaries. Talk about a lesson we need today. Environments are known to become very hostile to foreign invaders when pushed too hard. Right now, we're courting disaster. Hopefully, we won't wait for evolution to ground our ambitions. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
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